Chapter 27 – Fishing for a Big One
The next morning, Xia Lei went out after eating the breakfast Xia Xue had prepared for him and headed for the machine shop. He’d deliberately left ten minutes earlier to avoid Jiang Ru-Yi on his way out but found her waiting for him with her arms crossed when he went down the stairs.
Standing in the glow of dawn with her crisp summer uniform and police hat, Jiang Ru-Yi looked uncharacteristically majestic. She glared at Xia Lei like he was an underwear thief.
Xia Lei remembered him smacking her on her bum the last night and felt shame. He soldiered on and greeted her, “Morning, Ru-Yi. Who are you waiting for here?”
Jiang Ru-Yi glared at Xia Lei, “Pretending, huh? Don’t think I don’t know what you did last night. Come clean now and I can still forgive you.”
Xia Lei laughed hollowly, “You were drunk and that Xu Lang guy sent you home. He wanted to do ‘that’ to you and I rushed over to stop him.”
A blush spread across Jiang Ru-Yi’s face. “I-I’m not talking about that. That guy’s bad news, I know. Let’s not talk about that. I want to know about later. What did you do afterwards?”
“That guy left and I left. I didn’t do anything.”
“Liar.” Jiang Ru-Yi raised her hip and pointed at the highest point on her left side. “When I woke up this morning I was naked and there’s a slap-print here. You said you stopped Xu Lang and he left, and you left, so who gave me a bath? Who changed my clothes? Who carried me to bed, and slapped me here?”
Xia Lei’s forehead beaded with sweat. He’s in trouble!
“Was it you?” Jiang Ru-Yi’s tone softened, “Admit it, Lei. I’ll forgive all your mistakes.”
Xia Lei was speechless.
“You didn’t just stop at smacking my bum, did you? Did you molest me? Or kiss me? Or even… that? Just confess, I know you did it all.” Jiang Ru-Yi continued probing, the look in her eyes like that of a wretched Big Sister holding out a lollipop to trick a child.
Xia Lei could not stand it anymore. “Enough, it’ll be bad if the neighbours hear all this in the morning. I did nothing. Am I the sort who would take advantage of you after getting you drunk? It must’ve been you who gave yourself a bath, changed your own clothes and gone to sleep yourself.”
“Then what is this slap-mark?” Jiang Ru-Yi pointed at her hip again, angry yet shy.
“It could be a mosquito which bit you, and you hit yourself,” Xia Lei ventured.
Xia Lei quickly nodded, “I think this is the most logical explanation.” He added, “Plus, if I really did ‘that’ to you, you would have evidence ‘over there’. Did you get any evidence?”
“Ptoooh! Gross! Don’t talk about that, you shameless guy!” scolded Jiang Ru-Yi.
“Okay, okay… I won’t talk about it. I’m rushing off to the workshop now so let’s chat another day. Bye.”
But Jiang Ru-Yi blocked Xia Lei’s way.
Xia Lei frowned, “What are you doing? If I’d known this would happen I shouldn’t have saved you last night and let that Xu Lang bastard take advantage of you.”
Jiang Ru-Yi reached out a hand to Xia Lei, smiling nicely, “I was just kidding with you earlier. I’m actually here specially to thank you. Thank you. Come, shake hands with Big Sister and be on your way.”
‘Crazy…’ cursed Xia Lei quietly but he still had a smile on his face as he shook hands with Jiang Ru-Yi.
Jiang Ru-Yi’s smile disappeared as soon as they were done shaking hands. She peeled off a thin, transparent film from her finger right in front of Xia Lei and laughed evilly, “Let me tell you – I took the prints from the slap-mark. I’ll take your prints and see if they match and if they do… Just you wait! Humph!”
Xia Lei was speechless.
Jiang Ru-Yi left with a toss of her head, leaving Xia Lei standing dumbly for a while before he let out a hollow laugh and walked out of the neighbourhood to catch a bus.
After he got off the bus, he saw that the doors to the workshop were already wide open. Zhou Xiao-Hong mopped the floor in the workshop with her bountiful assets protruding. Golden rays of dawn shone on the floor and on her, making her bountiful area glow with golden richness. It was breathtaking.
His left eye twitched involuntarily and a flower garden presented itself to him. Xia Lei immediately slapped himself and quietly scolded, ‘It’s early in the morning! You dirty man!’
Zhou Xiao-Hong only became aware of his presence when he walked into the shop. She quickly put down the mop and put on a sweet smile, “Good morning, Boss Xia. I’ll make some tea for you.”
“No, No, you don’t have to,” said Xia Lei politely.
Zhou Xiao-Hong went to make him a cup of green tea anyway and offered it to him respectfully with both hands.
“Thank you. Why don’t you take a break? You’re perspiring,” said Xia Lei.
“It’s all right. I only have a bit of floor space left to clean.” Zhou Xiao-Hong took up the mop again.
Xia Lei was secretly pleased, ‘She’s hardworking. Looks like I made the right choice in hiring her.’
Zhou Xiao-Hong bent over the floor, mopping. She reached to wipe away some perspiration and she seemed to be overheated since she also pulled at her collar and fanned herself. The two mountainous existences jiggled with the waves of her little hand.*
Xia Lei looked away uncomfortably and spotted Ma Xiao-An arriving on his motorcycle.
“Lei, guess who I saw just now?” said Ma Xiao-An as soon as he stepped into the workshop.
“Who did you see?” Xia Lei played along and asked.
“I saw that female Doctor, that uh… what’s her name?” Ma Xiao-An forgot the name and looked at Xia Lei.
“Ning Jing,” said Xia Lei.
“Right, right. Ning Jing,” smiled Ma Xiao-An.
“Have some tea, Big Brother Ma.” Zhou Xiao-Hong brought Ma Xiao-An a fragrant cup of green tea without him asking.
Ma Xiao-An seemed to enjoy it, and he affected a bossy manner as he said, “Go about your work, then.”
“Yes.” Zhou Xiao-Hong brought a rag to Xia Lei’s table. She polished the table seriously and vigorously, her bosom moving as her hands moved; swaying left, left, swaying right, right.
Ma Xiao-An’s mouth hung open as he watched the hardworking Zhou Xiao-Hong wipe the table, his words forgotten.
Xia Lei kicked Ma Xiao-An in the shin and glared at him, “You said you saw Doctor Ning. What was she doing?”
“She was getting money from the cashpoint up the street,” answered Ma Xiao-An quickly. He moved around Xia Lei and continued to admire Zhou Xiao-Hong wiping the table. As if that was not enough, he pointed at a spot on the table and said, “Xiao-Hong, wipe here too. It’s dirty.”
“Okay.” Zhou Xiao-Hong brought her rag over and started wiping. **And a wipe wipe here, and a wipe wipe there… The pair of huge mysterious objects jiggled even more spectacularly – Left! Right! It was mesmerising.
Xia Lei chuckled and shook his head. He wanted to kick Ma Xiao-An again but didn’t have the heart to in the end.
A few minutes later, Ning Jing walked slowly in with a paper bag sandwiched under her armpit. The paper bag was thick and bulging and looked like it was stuffed full of something.
She came right after Ma Xiao-An mentioned her. Xia Lei went forward to greet her warmly, “Good morning, Big Sister Ning. What are you doing here?”
Ning Jing took the paper bag from under her armpit and shoved it in Xia Lei’s hands. “This is 50,000 yuan. I’ve come to settle payment.”
Xia Lei hesitated, “This is…” He remembered what Ma Xiao-An had just said – Ning Jing was withdrawing money from a cashpoint and was now suddenly delivering the 50,000 yuan payment. This money was definitely not from the Archaeological Bureau but from her own savings.
Ning Jing spoke vaguely, “Um, accept this. The Bureau has authorised it. This um, our Bureau Chief asked me to deliver it to you this morning.”
Xia Lei would have believed that the money was from the Archaeological Bureau if Ma Xiao-An had not seen her withdraw money from the cashpoint. “Big Sister Ning, this money can’t be yours, can it?” he questioned.
Ning Jing seemed to panic. “No, no. This money is really from the Archaeological Bureau. Stop asking, just accept it.”
Ning Jing’s reaction made Xia Lei even more certain that the money was hers. He definitely couldn’t accept it now. He pushed the paper bag back into Ning Jing’s hands, saying, “Big Sister Ning, I know this is your own money. I can’t take it. They have to pay me the 50,000 sooner or later anyway and I’m in no urgent need of money.”
Ning Jing suddenly shoved the money back into Xia Lei’s hands. “Master Xia, say no more and ask no more. Accept this money.”
“I can’t accept this. Please, take it back.” Xia Lei pushed the money back to Ning Jing.
Ning Jing stepped backwards and hid her hands behind her back. The paper bag fell to the floor and the 50,000 spilled out.
Xia Lei held out his hands and laughed dryly, “What are you doing, Big Sister Ning?”
Ning Jing bit her lip glumly and only replied after a while, “Those guys are unreasonable. I wrote a report to apply for the payment of your 50,000 but they said that Long Bing should pay for it since she took the compass. That woman is so fierce; would she pay you? You’ve helped so much but received no compensation in the end. I cannot take this, so I will pay your fees.”
“I have my principles. Your loss is related to me after all so I should be the one to compensate you. I won’t feel at ease unless you accept this money,” said Ning Jing earnestly.
Ma Xiao-An interrupted, “Lei, just accept it. It’s Doctor Ning’s wish.”
They were at a stalemate and Xia Lei decided to break out of it. He picked up the five bundles of money from the ground and peeled off a single 100-yuan note. “I’ll take 100 yuan for the compass repair fee. You take the rest back. I will be upset if you keep insisting.”
“Master Xia, you…” Ning Jing didn’t know what to say.
Xia Lei packed the rest of the money neatly and squeezed the paper bag into Ning Jing’s hands, smiling as he said, “If you see me as a friend, you’ll take this money back.”
Ning Jing sighed. “What should I do with you? Fine, I’ll take the money back; I don’t want to lose a friend like you.”
Xia Lei grinned, “That’s how it should be.”
Ma Xiao-An looked at Zhou Xiao-Hong and mouthed to her, “Your boss is an idiot. A big, big fool.”
Zhou Xiao-Hong blinked her big dark eyes, seemingly not understanding what the smaller boss was saying. On the other hand, she was quite full of respect for Xia Lei.
Ning Jing spoke again, “I will take the money back but I’ll still think of a way to help you cover your losses.”
“There’s really no need for that, Big Sister Ning,” said Xia Lei.
“Let me finish. My uncle is in charge of a state-owned enterprise which mainly produces specialised equipment. Some precision machining parts have to be imported from abroad but Europe and America have put in place stricter technology blockades so precision machining parts and special material we could easily purchase before are now unavailable. Last night, my uncle was talking with my dad and he has a very important order that can’t be completed because of this problem. It made me think of you, with your wonderful workmanship. Maybe you can process those precision machining parts. How about I recommend you to my uncle?”
Xia Lei had not expected her to say that. “This sounds like a big thing. I don’t know if I can do it,” said Xia Lei, surprised.
“You can definitely do it – I’ve considered your skill,” said Ning Jing, “How about I set a time, have the two of you meet, and give it a try. How do you know if you can or cannot do it if you don’t try?”
“Okay, then. Please set a time for me to meet your uncle. It doesn’t hurt to try.”
“That’s settled then; wait for my call. I’ll have to go to work now. Those fellows are still opposing me so they will have a lot to pick on if I am late,” said Ning Jing, annoyed.
Xia Lei saw Ning Jing out the door and to her car, then went back to his workshop.
Ma Xiao-An laughed merrily, “Nice, Lei! I was calling you an idiot earlier for rejecting the 50,000 which should have been yours anyway… I didn’t think you were fishing for a big one!”
“I had no such intention. Ning Jing is an honest person so I can’t take her money.”
Zhou Xiao-Hong interrupted to say, “Boss Xia, this is how good begets good.”
Xia Lei laughed, “Ho ho! I like this expression – well said!”
Ma Xiao-An pointed at his table, “Xiao-Hong, wipe my table too. Rub it hard so that it’ll shine like the stars.”
“Okay!” Zhou Xiao-Hong moved to the table and wiped as Ma Xiao-An had instructed. **And a wipe wipe here, and a wipe wipe there… She did not notice the little boss’s eyes staring greedily at her bouncing bosom with nary a blink.
Xia Lei sighed and pondered the importance of office tables in the workshop.
*Part removed. Superfluous description.
like a pond in summer when a sudden wind caused large waves and broke the original tranquility of its surface.
**Sing with the Old McDonald Had a Farm tune.