It was easy as pie to process a part for Xia Lei. He was done with it within an hour of getting back to Thunder Horse Workshop. After he was finished with the sample, he sat himself in front of the computer at his desk and searched for information on lip-reading.
Baidu was awesome. There was only what you couldn’t think of and nothing you couldn’t search for. He entered ‘how to learn lip-reading’ in the search bar and thousands of links about lip-reading popped up in the browser.
He first looked at the Baidu Library recommendations and three methods were listed.
One: Watch news programmes.
Two: Practice in front of the mirror.
Three: Use software to learn lip-reading.
Every method had detailed steps and were easy to understand. After reading those, Xia Lei browsed some other sites on lip-reading. He discovered that lip-reading looked complicated but to him, it was a very simple affair. Easy, because his left eye’s ‘recording’ ability could record every minute detail of the movement of a person’s lips!
‘Why don’t I use a mirror and compare lip-forms with Chi Jing-Qiu’s? Maybe I can interpret what she was saying.’ After reading a whole lot of information on the subject, Xia Lei was itching to try it out.
The seven employees of Thunder Horse Workshop were busy with their work and the equipment from Shentu Tian-Yin did not sit idle; they were running at full capacity. People and machines hummed with activity, getting work done efficiently. It was a little tiring, of course, but the employees were energetic and no one slacked off.
This sight of this made Xia Lei happy. He walked over to Zhou Xiao-Hong, who was using a hammer to remove the welding marks on a processed part. Clink-clank went the hammer. Perspiration wet her collar and a snow-white groove beyond it.
“Xiao-Hong, could you lend me your make-up mirror?” asked Xia Lei.
It was only then that Zhou Xiao-Hong discovered that Xia Lei had walked to her side. She quickly stood up and wiped her perspiration with the back of her hand. “What were you saying, Big Brother Lei?”
Xia Lei smiled, “I said, could you lend me your make-up mirror.”
Zhou Xiao-Hong looked at him, not comprehending, “What do you want with it, Big Brother Lei?”
“Never you mind. Do you have one or not? I’ll borrow one from Chen A-Jiao if you don’t,” said Xia Lei.
“I do, I do. I’ll get it for you right away.” Zhou Xiao-Hong went to the small room to get the mirror for Xia Lei.
Xia Lei thought for a bit, then went into the room without waiting for Zhou Xiao-Hong to come out again. Once he entered, he saw Zhou Xiao-Hong with her work clothes around her feet. She was pulling the elastic on her tight shorts open and digging inside with her other hand.
Her pale thighs, tight shorts as well as the outline of strange shapes and mature, tempting contours combined to smoulder like coals in Xia Lei’s lower abdomen.
“Ah… Big Brother Lei, you?” Zhou Xiao-Hong saw Xia Lei come in right away and her apple-face turned red immediately. Her hands went to her crotch, covering it up tightly.
This situation was better than Chi Jing-Qiu and her bikini but she was a traditional and reserved mountain-girl. She would get embarrassed by wearing shorts in front of Xia Lei and not dare to look him in the eye.
Xia Lei quickly turned around and spoke in embarrassment, “I’m sorry, it wasn’t on purpose…” Then he added, “I asked to borrow a mirror. Why did you take your trousers off?”
“I, I put it in the pocket of my shorts,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong nervously.
Xia Lei had nothing to say to that. It was just a mirror and putting it anywhere would do – why put it in body-hugging shorts? What puzzled him further was that her shorts actually had pockets in them.
Before he could puzzle it out, the sound of clothing rustling as she put her shorts back on came from behind him and Zhou Xiao-Hong walked to him and handed him a mirror.
It was a fairly compact mirror which was roughly three times bigger than a one-yuan coin. It was a smooth mirror on the front and the back was a beautifully silver-patterned shell.
Xia Lei knew at once why she had kept it so close to her body in the shorts when he saw it. This mirror was an antique cosmetic mirror.
Sure enough, Zhou Xiao-Hong explained, “Big Brother Lei, this mirror was left to me by my grandmother. She said her grandmother was a palace maid in the Qing dynasty and when the Qing dynasty fell, she took some things from the palace and escaped. Unfortunately all that’s left to me is this mirror. Seeing it is like seeing my grandmother, so I cherish it very much. I’m afraid to lose it, so… so I hid it in that place.”
Xia Lei laughed, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll break it?”
“No, that place it soft. It won’t break,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Once she said that, both she and Xia Lei froze. Zhou Xiao-Hong’s face turned red again.
“I, I’m going back to work.” So saying, Zhou Xiao-Hong left the room like she was escaping something.
Xia Lei smiled wryly as he shook his head and didn’t think about her soft place. He held the mirror and looked it over. It really was a beautiful antique mirror of marvellous workmanship and materials. He didn’t know anything about antiques but he knew that this mirror from the Qing dynasty should be able to fetch a few thousand in the market.
He didn’t inspect it further. He sat next to the foldable bed that Zhou Xiao-Hong slept on and brought the mirror in front of himself. It was then that he smelt something strange. The smell was mysterious and a little sultry. He’d already put the soft place out of his mind but the mysterious smell brought his attention to other matters again.
Then, oddly, he found a black hair in the crack between the mirror and the silver shell. It was wiry and thin and looked rather naughty. When he saw the hair, he froze for a moment, suddenly guessing where it came from and his brows furrowed. ‘What the… This… This is too much, isn’t it? Should I still use this mirror to practice lip-reading?’
He blanked out for two whole minutes. Xia Lei cautiously plucked the wiry hair out of the mirror and placed it gently in Zhou Xiao-Hong’s bedcovers, then faced the mirror and begun practicing.
The images of what his eye recorded when Chi Jing-Qiu was on the toilet and talking on the phone played in his head over and over. What shapes her lips formed, how her lips changed – it was all as though he was seeing it first-hand. While he recalled all these, his lips were also copying Chi Jing-Qiu’s lip forms, matching the shape with sounds.
Lip-reading was actually all about observation and memory, and focus. If these three conditions were fulfilled, anyone could learn to lip-read. Of the three, the most difficult was observation, followed by memory and focus. It looked simple and any person possessed observation skills but in reality, most would not be able to fulfil the first condition. The reason was simple – the degree of change in mouth movements was actually quite small when speaking and the changes were complex. Normal people had no way of catching these tiny and quick changes, let alone remember them!
However, these two most difficult conditions were easily met by Xia Lei, who had a one-of-a-kind advantage. His left eye could zoom-in and zoom-out, and record things so that he’d never forget what he saw. Under these conditions, he was a natural lip-reader!
‘I’m in the office, heehee… Oh, you’re so naughty… He wants to increase the price on the contract… 20%… 50% deposit… You’re in charge of the supply and demand department in Beach Motors… What is this bit of money to you… Okay, no problem… Manager Zeng, don’t you trust me… Okay, I’ll come keep you company at Springs Resort… You naughty man… I’m hanging up, darling, bye. Muah…’
Lip-shape by lip-shape, sound by sound, he pieced it all together. Chi Jing-Qiu had spent only three or four minutes talking on the phone in the bathroom of the guesthouse and didn’t say all that much but getting the content of the message from the shapes formed by her mouth was an extremely complicated and difficult affair. Xia Lei spent two hours on it before he was able to decipher the message.
Two hours was a long time but the rewards were great. It wasn’t just him finding out the identity of the client – the greater reward was him unlocking the door to the world of lip-reading. He was not yet familiar with it now but once he accumulated his knowledge of mouth-shapes to a certain extent and became familiar with it, he would be able to quickly lip-read anyone’s lips! When that time comes, he would be able to ‘hear’ the words of someone hiding 200 metres away!
This was an extension of the ability of his left eye. With an ability like this, if he waged war on the business market, he would already have an added attribute of 1:0*
Five in the evening was nearing and the employees of Thunder Horse Workshop were also done with their days’ work and were resting. Xia Lei, however, was still sitting on Zhou Xiao-Hong’s foldable bed, facing the mirror and muttering to himself.
“Is Boss Lei all right in the head?” Chen A-Jiao peeked in at him and spoke with her face full of worry.
“Yeah, he’s been muttering to himself the whole day. I discovered him doing that when I went to get myself some water,” said Liu Xue-Bin.
Zhou Xiao-Hong was displeased, “What are you talking about? Big Brother Lei is normal. He’s not crazy.”
Ma Xiao-An added his two cents, “Lei has been behaving a little erratically recently but don’t you guys worry. It’s fine as long as he doesn’t forget about treating us to dinner tonight.”
The newcomers to the workshop all laughed.
They were talking a little further from Xia Lei and had lowered their voices so he would not hear them but they did not know that Xia Lei was observing their mouth shapes through the mirror and deciphering their conversation with lip-reading.
There were no shortcuts in lip-reading; observation and connection were important. Xia Lei did not want to miss any opportunity to learn and practice lip-reading now.
‘Crazy? Heh Heh, I’m not. You’d better not speak ill of me behind my back. If I see you I’d be able to tell what you’re saying. Ha!’ Though he wasn’t able to read everything that everyone said, it was still passable for a quick interpretation and Xia Lei was excited by his progress.
Zhou Xiao-Hong could not hold back her worry and walked into the room, asking, “Big Brother Lei, are you okay?”
Xia Lei stopped his lip-reading practice. He got up and handed the mirror to Zhou Xiao-Hong and laughed as he said, “I’m fine. I was just looking at the pimples on my face.”
Xia Lei walked towards the exit, “Keep the mirror safe. It’s very valuable indeed.” He closed the door as he walked out.
Zhou Xiao-Hong came to her senses then, and turned red for no apparent reason. She then removed her trousers and put the mirror back into the secret pocket of the tight-fitting shorts. Xia Lei was, unquestionably, the first person to know that she had a mirror hidden in that place.
When Xia Lei exited the room, everyone looked at him, their gazes full of curiosity and worry. He smiled, “It’s all right. What are you all looking at me for? Get changed. We’ll all go for a good meal later.”
Ma Xiao-An laughed, “I told you he was normal! Haha!”
Thunder Horse Workshop filled with laughter.
A Volkswagen CC stopped by the side of the road and Chi Jing-Qiu stepped out of the car, briefcase in hand.
Ma Xiao-An and the others left the workshop to give Xia Lei and Chi Jing-Qiu some space to talk.
Xia Lei placed the personally-processed part on the desk. “Measure it.”
“No need. I trust your workmanship.” Chi Jing-Qiu just glanced at the part before opening her briefcase and taking out the contract. “The contract has been changed according to your requirements. Take a look and sign if there are no problems,” she said to Xia Lei.
Xia Lei read through it – there was nothing in the contract about Manager Zeng or a signature from the representative of Beach Motors but it was signed by Chi Jing-Qiu. This situation was both surprising, yet not to Xia Lei.
“Why isn’t there a signature from the client?” Xia Lei enquired.
Chi Jing-Qiu smiled faintly, “My client trusts me very much and decided to let me handle everything. Don’t bother about this. Sign and give me your account details so I can transfer the 150,000 deposit to you. Why are you so concerned about who the client is when there’s money to be made? Are you trying to steal my clients?”
Xia Lei just laughed. He lifted his pen and signed the contract, then told Chi Jing-Qiu his bank account number.
While Chi Jing-Qiu did the transfer, Xia Lei thought ‘I don’t need you to say it to know that you’re going to Springs Resort to sleep with that Manager Zeng, otherwise he wouldn’t let you handle everything and let you grab more money. Just you wait and see. Bring me whatever number of clients and I’ll steal them all away.’
“Okay, I’ve transferred the amount. Check it.” Chi Jing-Qiu put her phone away, then extended a hand to Xia Lei with a smile, “To a happy collaboration.”
Xia Lei smiled as well, “To a happy collaboration.”
*他征战商场将自带一比零的属性 – this phrase is a mess and I did my best with it. Machine translation will give you ‘He will battle the mall property comes with a nil’.