Chapter 20 – Compass: Application Unknown
The waiters cleared the table and even changed the tablecloth.
Xia Lei had no appetite though the lobster and red wine looked delectable. The way Long Bing was looking at him made him uncomfortable; her gaze was special and seemed to be able to look into his soul and see all his secrets.
“Weren’t you in Jing-Du? Why are you back in Hai-Zhu?” Xia Lei broke the silence between them.
“I came back for you,” said Long Bing.
“Regarding what matter?” Xia Lei seemed to have been affected by her and his words became concise and to the point.
Long Bing opened her handbag and took out an ancient-looking pig iron key.
Xia Lei froze in surprise. The key she was holding was the same Ming-dynasty key he had welded!
“Did you weld this?” Long Bing stared steadily at Xia Lei.
Xia Lei nodded. “I did, but… Why do you have it?”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you. I know all that you’ve been up to,” said Long Bing.
Xia Lei frowned. “You have me under surveillance?”
Long Bing neither confirmed nor denied it. She changed the topic, “Hai-Zhu City’s police caught the two suspects who murdered Professor Zhang Bo-Qing and also recovered this key. A professional took a look at the welded key and proclaimed it a miracle. He said this sort of welding was impossible even for Masters with over ten years of experience. How did you do it?”
“Did you come here to ask me this?” inquired Xia Lei.
“This may seem like a childish question but I truly wish to know the answer. I’m getting more and more curious about you.” Long Bing’s gaze was sharp and a little suspicious.
Xia Lei could not help but to let out a little laugh. “Great. I’m getting more and more curious about you too. You tell me your real identity and I’ll tell you how I did it. You can’t be the only one asking questions, right?”
“It is not yet time to let you know. Do not bring this up again. I’ll let you know when you should know,” said Long Bing.
“How insincere.” Xia Lei knew she would say that. “However, I’ll still answer your question though you didn’t answer mine. I used welding tongs and pig iron electrodes to weld the key.”
Long Bing paused, then an unprecedented smile appeared on her face. “You think me a child?”
Xia Lei thought she looked rather nice with a smile but did not dare to voice his thought.
The two drank a glass of wine.
Long Bing put her glass down, “I am actually here today to ask you for help.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“It’s related to Professor Zhang Bo-Qing’s case,” said Long Bing. “Archaeologists have already located the shipwreck and found a metal cabin. They opened it with this key but did not find the presumed exquisite porcelain, gold or silver treasures. They found a compass.”
“Yes, a compass. A very strange compass.” Long Bing described it, “It is actually a very sophisticated instrument, much like a watch. There’s pointers on the compass but some parts of it have been damaged and it doesn’t work. I would like to ask you to help repair those damaged parts with your welding and rework them so that the compass will work again.”
Xia Lei smiled, “I’m not a watchmaker. The welded parts would also become heavier and affect the accuracy of the compass. Can modern parts be integrated with an artifact hundreds of years old using a lathe? Furthermore, why do you trust me so much to be willing to hand me the task of repairing such an important artifact?”
“I don’t want excuses, I want an answer. Give me one response – will you help, or not?” said Long Bing.
Overbearing, as usual. Xia Lei smiled wryly, “Yes, since you trust me so much. It wouldn’t be right if I refused. Where’s that compass? I’d need to take a look at it first.”
Long Bing stood up. “Let’s go, then.”
Xia Lei looked a little reluctantly at the untouched lobster on the table, thinking “That’s a lobster! To leave without even taking a bite… I wouldn’t have ordered them if I knew. What a waste!”
He bemoaned the lobster in his heart but still rushed to get the bill. It cost him over 1,000 yuan and poor Xia Lei’s heart hurt at the price. He caught sight of Jiang Ru-Yi at the other table and she glared at him.
Xia Lei responded in kind and glared back. However, the glare made his eye jump and Jiang Ru-Yi’s clothing vanished. Her breasts, buttocks, waist and long legs were revealed to him and her buttocks pressed against the chair was like a huge jelly; it had a tender and exquisite property which stimulated him.
“Hm?” Long Bing looked at Xia Lei strangely. “Do you want to go over and talk? I can wait.”
Xia Lei came to his senses and quickly looked away. “No, no need. Let’s go.”
They left the restaurant, got into Long Bing’s car and arrived at Hai-Zhu City Archaeological Bureau. It was an old compound with a four-storey brick-and-mortar building, plus a bungalow.
As they walked into the office, Xia Lei could not contain his curiosity and asked, “Miss Long, Professor Zhang’s case has been solved. The nature of this matter is also archaeological now, so why are you still involved in it?”
Long Bing gave him the impression of someone who worked under a hail of bullets and he’d speculated that she was a high level agent of some kind. Why would a person like her seek him out to weld a compass? Even if they did want him to help, shouldn’t someone from the Archaeological Bureau be asking?
“This case is more complicated than you think. You’re not police and you’re not our people either so I cannot disclose too much. Don’t ask anything about the case – just help me repair the compass,” said Long Bing.
Xia Lei smiled and shrugged, “Sure, lead me to it.”
Long Bing brought Xia Lei to a display room.
An old man and a young woman were in the room. The old man was about 60, with white hair and colourless spectacles. He had a scholarly air. The woman looked like she was in her twenties; slim, tall, oval-shaped face, colourless spectacles. She seemed educated and graceful.
The old man and young woman were discussing something. Next to them on the display table was a compass and several pieces of broken parts.
Xia Lei’s gaze landed on the compass and he was momentarily absorbed. The compass on the table looked like an enlarged watch with complicated insides. It was a miracle that this intricate compass could be made with the resources of the Ming dynasty. A question surfaced in his mind – What in the world is this compass for?
Long Bing walked over, “Professor Huang, Doctor Ning, good afternoon. I’ve brought the Master to repair the compass.”
It was only then that the old man and young woman realised others had come in and their gaze moved to Long Bing and Xia Lei. They recognised Long Bing but expressions of surprise appeared on their faces when they saw that the ‘Master’ she had brought was so young.
“Let me do the introductions. This is Huang Wei-Guo, Professor Huang, a prominent professor in the national archaeological circles. This is Ning Jing, Doctor Ning. She is a proud disciple of the late Professor Zhang Bo-Qing.” Long Bing then pointed at Xia Lei as she said, “This is the man who welded the key, Xia Lei, owner of Thunder Horse Workshop.”
The introduction made Xia Lei feel a little embarrassed. He was no Master. He actually only had a welder’s certificate and was a regular little worker ant. His Thunder Horse Workshop was also just a small, newly re-established shop by the roadside with no real reputation. Long Bing’s way of introducing him was obviously meant to raise his status.
Xia Lei kept his cool and spoke politely, “Good afternoon, Professor Huang and Doctor Ning.”
Professor Huang Wei-Guo shook Xia Lei’s hand and smiled as he said, “Master Xia, I wanted to meet you after I saw the key you welded. I’d imagined you to be in your forties or fifties before I met you. I’d never expected that you would be so young! The younger generations will indeed surpass us in time.”
Xia Lei smiled. “Professor Huang, you’re too kind.”
Ning Jing, who was next to the professor, smiled and said, “I say, enough pleasantries. Let’s get down to business.”
Ning Jing looked quiet and sweet and her voice was also soft and pleasant. She had the air of sweet-tempered gentleness all educated women had.
Xia Lei had a good impression of the two of them and he dispensed with the courtesies and went straight to the table to observe the compass.
Ning Jing went to Long Bing’s side and spoke, “Miss Long, he is so young… Was he really the one who welded the key?”
“Doctor Ning, you are around the same age as him, too. Are you not also one of the important people in the archaeological circles?” said Long Bing.
Ning Jing lowered her voice, “My situation is different from his. People in his line of work must have years of experience to make it.”
Long Bing did not reply.
Xia Lei had actually overheard Ning Jing and Long Bing’s conversation but he did not mind Ning Jing’s suspicions. His attention was all on the compass.
The compass was about the size of the modern compass used by Daoist masters to read Feng Shui but it was divided into three layers; top, middle and bottom, like an almost-round sandwich biscuit. There was a golden pointing needle on its surface which had stopped moving. Strange patterns covered the surface of the compass and they were all completely symmetrical but it was hard to tell if they held any special meaning.
Xia Lei’s eye twitched, and the middle layer entered his field of vision with no obstructions. The middle layer consisted of over a hundred gears of different sizes and axes of rotation. Some gears had bits of sediment that the naked eye could not see between them. He looked at the bottom of the compass last and saw four Chinese characters – Yong-Le the Great.*
*Emperor Yong-Le, reign name of the third Ming emperor, Zhu Di, who reigned 1403-1424.