In the span of just a few days, everything had changed. Tianying and Xu Xingcheng had sailed off for a new life of happiness together. The Xing Long Guan clan had attacked openly, in force, and Foster Father Hong was dead, the Hong clan in tatters. Luo Cheng had sacrificed himself for Luo Fusheng, and Big Brother Lin had rescued Lan Lan and brought her into the Lin family's protection.
Foster Father Hong's dying words to Luo Fusheng were to tell him to leave Dongjiang. He pressed a rolled-up sheet of paper into Luo Fusheng's hands.
"Shanghai..." Foster Father Hong's voice was hoarse and raspy. "Take this... authorities in Shanghai... they have to know... Japanese... big shipment of opium..." He suddenly roused and clutched Luo Fusheng's arm with surprising strength. "Promise me you'll stop this. Don't stay here and try to take on the Xing Long Guan by yourself."
It was exactly what Luo Fusheng had planned to do, but with Foster Father Hong dying in his arms, staining Luo Fusheng's shirt with his blood, Luo Fusheng bowed his head and promised.
Right after Foster Father Hong's funeral, he left for Shanghai on his motorcycle, taking with him only the clothes on his back and the rolled-up paper dotted red with Foster Father Hong's blood.
The attack came out of nowhere. Xing Long Guans, he guessed, trying to eliminate loose ends, although bullets weren't usually their style. One sniper shot blew out the front tire and he was tossed onto the grassy embankment as his motorcycle violently skidded and overturned. As Luo Fusheng got to his feet, out of the curtain of trees and bushes they came, dozens of them, most wielding knives and axes, but some with rifles and pistols.
Luo Fusheng fought off the first wave with ease: weakling youngsters, low on skills, probably facing their first test of mettle. He blocked their slashing swipes and ducked their knife edge thrusts, then went on the offensive with well-aimed punches, bull's-eye groin kicks, and a few knife stabs to get the blood flowing. The youngsters fled.
The second wave gave him trouble. A bullet clipped his upper arm and another missed his thigh by the width of a grass blade. Luo Fusheng drew his own pistol and got off a good shot -- stomach, might kill the guy if it bled out -- before a giant mountain of a man grabbed his arm, crunched the pistol out of his grip, and pretty much tossed him onto the road.
Luo Fusheng staggered to his feet and grinned, wiping blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. The man-mountain grinned back. Oh, this was gonna be good. It was gonna hurt like hell, but it was gonna be good.
But before it could get good, one of the thugs shouted that a truck was coming and they all scattered. Luo Fusheng stood swaying on the road as they disappeared back into the trees. It took him a moment to grasp his sudden liberation and he put a hand to his head. No blood, but a bad bruise. He managed to flop onto the embankment before the truck rolled by without stopping, slowing only to swerve past his motorcycle.
He searched the grass on either side of the road for his pistol. No luck, and he dimly recalled seeing one of the thugs pick it up after the man-mountain had cast it aside. His motorcycle was in worse shape than he was. It had taken more bullets, the critical one in the gas tank. Gas spilled dangerously across the road. With a weary sigh, Luo Fusheng shoved the mangled motorcycle off the road onto the grassy embankment. Even if it were repairable, he'd have to push it all the way to Shanghai. His left arm, grazed by the bullet and sticky with blood, and his torso and legs, bruised and aching, protested. He gave the seat one last pat of gratitude and started on the long walk to Shanghai.
It was night when Luo Fusheng arrived in Shanghai, and although he entered the city through a dark, quiet quarter, the glitzy lights of the international city beckoned ahead. He walked slowly, tired to his bones and sore all over. He hadn't eaten since the morning, but his ravenous stomach had given up its demands about an hour earlier. Before he could see to himself, though, he would carry out his promise. He stopped a passerby and asked the way to the nearest police station. The man looked at him in suspicious alarm, then probably decided a police station was the best place for him and gave him directions.
Entering a police station was never comfortable for Luo Fusheng and he paused before approaching the desk. It was a slow night, and the duty cop was a thin youth who yawned before greeting him with, "Yes?" Then he took in the blood on Luo Fusheng's sleeve, the dirt on his face, and widened his eyes. "Was there an attack?" the cop gulped.
Luo Fusheng smiled at him. "There was, but not in Shanghai so I think you're off the hook. But I need to see someone about this." He pulled the rolled-up paper from his jacket pocket and held it up. The cop didn't take it from him.
"What's that?" he asked, not really interested in the answer.
"It's information about the Japanese smuggling opium into Shanghai. A big shipment and soon. There could be weapons, too."
"Oh," said the cop, unimpressed. "You'll need to see the superintendent for something like that. Come back tomorrow."
Luo Fusheng stared at him and frowned. He rested one hand on his hip and drummed his fingers. Typical cop. No sense of urgency. No concern for the effort it had taken to get this information into their hands. Luo Fusheng thought of Foster Father Hong dying in his arms and wanted to jump over the desk and thrash this dumb, bored cop to within an inch of his life. But that might not be the best decision.
He tucked the paper back into his pocket and said, "I'll do that." The cop didn't even acknowledge him when he left.
The little noodle place off one of the main streets reminded Luo Fusheng of Dongjiang. The Hong gang had had a dozen places like this where they could meet and unwind, share a few drinks and stories. Luo Fusheng found a free spot to sit at a table occupied by four ordinary working men hunkered over their bowls. He paused to appreciate the spicy aroma, then dug in. Delicious, and after one or two tastes, his ravenous stomach roared to life again and he ordered another bowl before he'd eaten half of the first. He also ordered another bottle of beer and a third when they brought his second bowl of noodles.
Warmed and comforted by food, Luo Fusheng glanced around disinterestedly and noticed a young guy who reminded him of Luo Cheng. He was with a larger group of men, toughs by the look of them, but he sat a little apart. New to the gang, maybe, or simply lacking their respect, which bothered Luo Fusheng as a matter of principle, but it was none of his business. The kid met Luo Fusheng's stare and Luo Fusheng smiled at him, thinking of Luo Cheng. Stupid Xiao Cheng, throwing himself in front of a knife meant for Luo Fusheng. Why'd he have to do something like that?
Luo Fusheng finished off his beer and called for another, looking away from the kid. Lost in his own increasingly blurry thoughts, he didn't immediately notice the fight that broke out until it crowded around him. Someone's flailing arm jostled the beer in his hand. Luo Fusheng looked up, annoyed, and saw one of the big tough guys hauling back to punch the kid-who-was-not-Luo-Cheng. The kid who was maybe half the tough guy's size. Oh, no way.
Luo Fusheng hopped to his feet, shoved the kid aside, and rounded on Tough Guy with his fist, sending him crashing into a table which threw its noodle bowls into the air as its occupants scurried away. Tough Guy lurched forward, grinning, and Luo Fusheng grinned back, lifting both fists. Around them a brawl erupted, and Luo Fusheng spared a glance to check on the kid, who had ducked under a table. Well, not like the kid could hold his own against any of these goons.
That glance cost him dearly. Tough Guy delivered an uppercut to Luo Fusheng's jaw and a roundhouse to his ribs. Luo Fusheng floundered backwards and shook his head, then pounced forward with a one-two set of his own. Now the fun really started. They were evenly matched, despite Tough Guy being heavier. But Tough Guy didn't fight dirty enough, and Luo Fusheng taught him a few lessons.
Tough Guy didn't fight dirty -- until pulling a knife, and before Luo Fusheng could whisk his own knife out, his right shoulder erupted in searing, sharp pain. Blood misted across his face as Tough Guy withdrew the blade, and Luo Fusheng recognized the murder in his opponent's eyes. His fingers scrabbled for his own knife.
"Stop! Police!" a woman's voice shouted with an admirable attempt at authority. It slowed the action down just enough for Luo Fusheng to get his knife out, but lifting it sent shooting pain down his arm and he almost dropped it. The brawl continued and Tough Guy raised his blade again.
Out of nowhere a kick sent Tough Guy flying across the table, and a short young woman in a wool cap, coat, and trousers blocked Luo Fusheng from Tough Guy's inevitable response. Her pose was expert, clearly someone trained, and as the two of them fought Tough Guy side by side, Luo Fusheng admired her skill. At one point, when they had Tough Guy on the ropes across an overturned bench, she pulled a set of handcuffs out of her pocket, but more of the brawl intruded and Tough Guy ran away. Luo Fusheng and the woman broke up the remaining combatants. The kid-who-was-not-Luo-Cheng was nowhere to be seen.
Breathless, annoyed by the jabbing pain in his right arm, but wired after the fight, Luo Fusheng turned toward the woman.
"You're police?" he asked.
"Yes, that's right." She looked him over with big eyes and her mouth set in a line Luo Fusheng recognized as the lead-up to, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
Before she could ask, though, he said, "I have important information for the police. Maybe you can help me." He reached for his jacket pocket -- why was it suddenly hard to get his hand to work? And why had the noodle place turned off the lights?
"It's right here," he assured her, trying to reach for the paper. His words were slurred. Three and half beers didn't usually catch up to him so fast.
"Are you—" she started to ask. Luo Fusheng's knees crumpled and he started to fall.
He drifted in and out of awareness. The lady cop slung his left arm across her shoulders, and the motion awakened the bullet graze and its dull, cruel pain. Somehow his right shoulder was wrapped tightly. Somehow his feet were moving, though sometimes they dragged, too. Whenever he opened his eyes it was both way too dark to see anything and way too painful, as if someone was shining a bright light at him, so he kept his eyes closed.
He heard a startled woman's voice and got a strong whiff of fancy perfume in his face, causing him to cough, and hell, did that hurt. Then it was stairs. Stairs? Why did there have to be stairs? He didn't want any stairs. He wanted to lie down and sleep. He was sure he could sleep really well, too, even without Tianying's voice singing to him.
Lady Cop wouldn't let him and was kind of forceful and pushy about it. Luo Fusheng didn't like forceful, pushy cops, and tried to resist, but Lady Cop's hold on him was firm. Firm but gentle at the same time, like she didn't want to hurt him. I'm not hurt, he wanted to say, except trying to speak hurt too much.
Finally there were no more stairs, and Luo Fusheng didn't feel guilty about Lady Cop needing to pull him along from here. Lady Cop was the one who had insisted on the stairs, and this was the price she paid.
And then everything stopped, and his entire body sagged, and was it time to sleep yet? Luo Fusheng tried to drop to the floor. Mean Lady Cop held him up, her strong little fingers digging into his screaming ribs. Now there was pounding. Why was she pounding on him, he wondered, before he figured out the pounding wasn't him. Lady Cop was kicking at a door.
"Luo Fei!" she yelled. "Luo Fei!"
"No, it's Luo Fush—" he started to correct her, dropping to the floor before he could finish.
He woke up in a bed. In a bedroom dimly lit by morning light through heavy curtains. He closed his eyes. When he woke up again, he was in the same bed and the light was a little stronger. The room was quiet, though there were muffled street sounds from outside.
Luo Fusheng took inventory. Ribs bruised but none cracked or broken, he thought. Bullet graze bandaged, only a small brown circle of dried blood on the bandage. Jaw: bruised, a little swollen. Left temple: nasty scrape he didn't even remember getting. Nothing deep, wouldn't scar. Right shoulder... This was the one he hesitated over. Right shoulder was expertly bound in a tight bandage and although he could feel a little ooze of blood around the wound, the bandage itself was clean. He tried moving his arm. Nope, not a good idea. He wiggled his fingers and balled his right hand into a fist. Not the strongest fist, not yet, but nothing to worry about. He sank back against the pillows in relief and looked around the room.
It was an ordinary bedroom with dark walls and dark wood everywhere. Very restful though. The furniture was nice but nothing too fancy like the Hongs' or Lins'. He remembered the Lady Cop. Was this her bedroom? It didn't look like a woman's bedroom, not quite.
When his legs felt ready for it, he got out of bed. He was wearing his jeans and undershorts, but the rest of his clothes were draped over the foot of the bed. The singlet was a non-starter, but with a lot of wincing he managed to pull on his white shirt -- his formerly white shirt, he noted -- and get a few buttons buttoned. With his left hand he was able to get his suspenders in place.
His jacket was roughed up and stained. He searched the pockets and found the rolled-up note. Tucking it into his jeans pocket, he opened the bedroom door and shambled into the main room.
Despite being full of...everything -- furniture, tools, machines, papers, and books, so many books, more books than Luo Fusheng had ever seen in his life -- despite this, it was a calm room with sedate warm colors. It was slightly less dim than the bedroom, and one quick glance told him the Lady Cop was not here. A second glance around and Luo Fusheng suspected this was not her room at all. He couldn't have said why. It just didn't match his impression of her strong personality.
He took a few more steps into the room and stopped. There was someone here. A man perched on a big leather chair, his feet on the chair's seat, his wiry body folded into itself, his forearms crossed over his knees. He wore brown checked trousers and a darker brown vest, and his shirtsleeves were rolled to the elbows. His head was bowed forward, presenting a thick mass of wavy hair Luo Fusheng was immediately and inexplicably tempted to ruffle.
Luo Fusheng gave the room a third, scrutinizing look. This place belonged to this man. He took another step so he could introduce himself. A deep, slow inhale and exhale stopped him. The man was asleep. Sitting like that, which frankly impressed Luo Fusheng, and he considered himself an expert at sleeping in chairs.
He approached as quietly as he could, not wanting to disturb the man but curious for a closer look. He stopped in front of the chair and tilted his head, trying to see the man's face, but it was hidden behind his arms and in shadow. With a wince -- Luo Fusheng's ribs, back, and shoulder were not happy -- he crouched down, taking in a few more details like the man's perfectly straight, pointed sideburns, and the nice shape of his ears.
With a quick inhale the man woke up, lifted his head, and they stared at each other in mutual surprise.
Beautiful eyes. Luo Fusheng's first impression was beautiful eyes. Widely staring at him, eyebrows raised. An interesting, cute nose. Sharp cheekbones accentuated by those perfect sideburns. A mustache and beard, both meticulously groomed to shape, framing... oh. His lips. Lush, red, sensuous lips.
Beautiful man, Luo Fusheng thought, still staring.
A moment passed and neither of them moved, then Luo Fusheng, recollecting himself, said, "I... I'm..." and found it difficult to form the simple words of introduction because he was so distracted by the beautiful eyes and beautiful lips. The beautiful man.
The beautiful man suddenly uncurled himself and stood on the chair for a split second before hopping over an armrest to get off of it without needing to get past Luo Fusheng. He strode through the room, threw open a door and bellowed, "Qin Xiaoman! He's awake!"
The introductions were stilted, because the beautiful man stood stiffly in front of a bookcase, his arms crossed in front of his chest, and burned his gaze into the short lady cop who exuded energy and good will. She was Qin Xiaoman, and she lived across the hallway, and she was the beautiful man's assistant or partner or sidekick. Something like that.
Luo Fusheng finally found his words again, encouraged by Qin Xiaoman's eager curiosity. He mentioned Dongjiang. He gave her the precious piece of paper. She read it, her smile faded, she looked serious and handed the paper to the beautiful man, who held it between two fingers and read it with no reaction.
The beautiful man, Qin Xiaoman had to tell him after her prompts and nudges at the man failed to produce sound, was Luo Fei. Luo Fusheng smiled at him. Maybe the shared family name was a good sign, something to break the ice. Nothing breaking so far.
Luo Fei was a detective or consultant. Something like that. Shanghai's French Concession police force seemed more complicated than Dongjiang's. He sincerely hoped they were less corrupt and better at their jobs, so his whole trip here wouldn't be a wasted effort.
Though meeting the beautiful Luo Fei kind of made it all worthwhile.
Qin Xiaoman, who had rushed over in her pajamas, returned to her rooms to get dressed. Alone again with Luo Fei, Luo Fusheng said, "I'm... I'm very grateful to you. Thank you for giving up your bed for the night. I slept well." He bowed.
Luo Fei, who had not looked at him since they had stared at each other, looked at him now and said, "That will not help your ribs. Or the rest of you. Stand up. Get to a hospital." He spoke fast and stern, but there was a hint of sympathy in his eyes. (Beautiful eyes.)
Qin Xiaoman entered and looked between them. She asked Luo Fusheng, "Do you want to go to a hospital? Last night, you seemed..." She trailed off and gave him an assessing look.
"Madam Qin," Luo Fei said crisply. "Observe this man. See his injuries."
"Knife wound to the right shoulder," she said. "A cut to the left arm—"
"No," Luo Fei interrupted. Luo Fusheng and Qin Xiaoman both looked at him curiously.
"A bullet grazed the left arm," Luo Fei said. Qin Xiaoman glanced at Luo Fusheng, who nodded. Luo Fei continued, "But it's not yesterday's injuries that should interest you. You helped me undress him last night..." Luo Fusheng raised his eyebrows and grinned slowly at Qin Xiaoman, who averted her eyes. "...and saw the healing bruises, the old scars. This man has led a life of violence and says he comes from Dongjiang. What should this tell you?"
Luo Fusheng, who was beginning to chafe at being referred to as "this man," waited with interest for Qin Xiaoman's answer. She spoke as if counting out her thoughts, "Family-run gangs. Infamously corrupt police. Municipal government controlled by powerful families." She paused and looked Luo Fusheng over again. "A gang member, but not rank-and-file..." Her eyes brightened. "A crime syndicate lieutenant!"
"Yes," said Luo Fei before Luo Fusheng could say anything. "So why would a Dongjiang crime boss come to Shanghai and promptly get into a fight?"
Luo Fusheng had had enough. "I'm not a crime boss!" he protested. "I was second-in-command in the Hong family who controlled the docks, but the Hongs have been destroyed. I came here to bring the information in that paper to the authorities. It was my foster father's dying wish. And I didn't mean to get into a fight, but there was a tough guy gonna beat up a skinny kid who couldn't defend himself, and that's not gonna happen around me, I don't care if it's Shanghai or Dongjiang."
Somewhere in there, at the mention of the skinny kid, Luo Fei's gaze on him changed subtly, but Luo Fusheng couldn't guess why. Luo Fusheng added, "I don't want to go to a hospital unless I'll die otherwise. So thank you both for your help last night, but I delivered my message and now I'll be on my way." He wasn't going to stay where he was no longer welcome, even if he had no idea where to go next.
Qin Xiaoman shot a chastising look at Luo Fei, who unexpectedly said, "Fine. Stay here today and get a good rest. Qin Xiaoman and I have work to do." He brushed past them and grabbed a well-made coat, a hat, and a walking stick from the corner and abruptly left the apartment. Qin Xiaoman gave Luo Fusheng a little shrug and a smile and hurried out.
Luo Fusheng closed the door, unsure what to make of it all. He shrugged it off and grinned. What did it matter? So long as he could stay for a day and see the beautiful Luo Fei again.
After a long rest, he showered and soaked in Luo Fei's bathtub, despite the damage the water did to his bandages. He borrowed a comb and parted his wet hair, attempting some neatness, and found a comfortable bath robe to wear. If this was Luo Fei's bath robe, it was at least one size too large for the narrowly built man. And if it wasn't, Luo Fusheng wondered if he'd get to meet the boyfriend.
He wandered through the apartment, looking for food, which he didn't find, and nosing into everything that seemed interesting. Which was basically everything, because it was all Luo Fei's stuff, and Luo Fei was interesting. Not just because he was beautiful, although that helped, but also because he was smart. It was tiring to be surrounded by stupid people all the time, as Luo Fusheng knew all too well. It was exciting to be around smart people.
When he found the wall of papers and photographs connected by the name Captain, he read it all with growing unease and stared at the newspaper clipping about Luo Fei. The cop in the news photo barely seemed like the same person.
Eventually his hunger overtook his curiosity and Luo Fusheng left the apartment to try his luck across the hallway in Qin Xiaoman's rooms, but her door was locked. Of course. Cops. As he turned back to Luo Fei's place, a doll of a woman in a tight green cheongsam appeared at the end of the hallway and exclaimed, "Oh! It's you."
Luo Fusheng didn't remember meeting her but recognized her perfume. "I'm Luo Fusheng," he introduced himself.
She smiled. "My late husband's name was Sullivan," she told him. She wore a lot of make-up and gave him the same look the girls at Mei Gao Mei gave him when they wanted something. He smiled back and hoped she'd noticed last night that his body was a little too banged up for anything terribly interesting.
"I... I was looking for something to eat."
Mrs. Sullivan's eyes raked over him in Luo Fei's bath robe. "I can help you with that," she said, her smile growing wider.
Luo Fusheng was still wearing the bath robe that evening when Luo Fei and Qin Xiaoman returned to the apartment. He sat in one of the leather chairs, flipping one-handedly through a magazine about photography. The meal Susu had fed him hours ago had worn off and his stomach rumbled when the smell of steamed buns wafted toward him from the paper bag Qin Xiaoman held.
"How was work?" he greeted them.
Luo Fei gave him a sharp stare, said unnecessarily, "You're wearing my robe," and went to hang up his coat and hat.
Luo Fusheng set the magazine aside and took the paper bag Qin Xiaoman offered him, pawing inside for a steamed bun and popping it into his mouth. "What happened about the information I brought?" he asked around delicious pork filling and chewy bun.
Luo Fei strode to the chair, picked up the stack of magazines Luo Fusheng had been reading, shot him a look, and moved the magazines to a table already cluttered with books and papers. Qin Xiaoman said, "The superintendent appreciated the tip-off." She smiled. "You did a good thing bringing the information to us."
Luo Fusheng dug into the bag for the last steamed bun, casting a glance at Luo Fei, whose attention was riveted on one of the magazine covers. He held up the magazine and Luo Fusheng noticed his slender, elegant fingers.
"Madam Qin," Luo Fei called her over and they looked at the magazine cover, discussing something privately. Luo Fusheng ate the steamed bun and respectfully tried not to eavesdrop. All he heard was that they were working on a disappearance case and something about the magazine cover made a connection Luo Fei explained to Qin Xiaoman. They exchanged looks of understanding and before Luo Fusheng could ask about their case, they were both gone, Luo Fei grabbing his coat and hat on the way out the door.
Left alone again, Luo Fusheng curled up as comfortably as he could on the leather chair (it was not particularly comfortable, with his various aches and bruises) and went to sleep.
"Wake up. It's only a dream." The words were quiet but rapid, and the voice familiar. Luo Fusheng shook himself out of the nightmare and blinked until his eyes focused on... Beautiful eyes.
He stared for a moment. Luo Fei's beautiful eyes stared back. Luo Fei crouched easily to be at eye level, wearing grey velvet pajamas. Oh. He had a beautiful throat, as well.
"You shouldn't be sleeping like this," Luo Fei said, slightly grudging. "Why didn't you take the bed?"
Luo Fusheng sat up, started to stretch his arms before remembering how bad an idea that was, and grimaced. "I couldn't take your bed for a second night. I... I know my... my being here is not... is... is an imposition."
"Are you in a condition to go anywhere else?" Luo Fei asked, still crouched on the floor in front of the chair.
"Of course!" Luo Fusheng flashed him a grin. "This?" He nodded toward his right shoulder. "Just a scratch." He thumped his chest with his left hand. Also not the best idea. "I can go any place."
Luo Fei believed exactly zero words of this, he could tell. He said, "The sooner you mend, the sooner you can be on your way without Qin Xiaoman accusing me of being heartless, so I insist that you take the bed."
"You're not heartless," Luo Fusheng said immediately, and Luo Fei's eyes widened ever so slightly.
After a beat, a kind of veil dropped over Luo Fei's gaze and he said, "How do you know?" The curl of his mouth dared Luo Fusheng to answer and also made clear that there was no acceptable answer. Luo Fusheng stiffly got up from the chair.
"I can just tell," he said and smiled down at Luo Fei, who watched him totter to the bedroom.
He oddly felt worse when he woke up on the second morning in Luo Fei's bed. The room was swimming around him and despite it being winter, he felt hot like it was the height of summer. His ears rung with Tianying's singing, but there were no sounds in the room. He closed his eyes and fell into a deeper sleep than he'd had in a long, long time.
Sometime during the day -- or was it night again? it seemed very dark -- he heard, very clearly and distinctly, Luo Fei say disgustedly, "What did you do to your bandages? This is ridiculous. How did you survive this long if you're going to be like this?"
Then he was swimming in the room again and listening to Tianying. He tried to sing with her, but she turned into Qin Xiaoman, who held him while someone with slender, elegant fingers coolly dabbed at his right shoulder before tightly winding it in a clean bandage. His eyes tracked the winding of the bandage until it made him woozy. He looked up and oh, it was the beautiful man. He pointed at him and laughed, delighted to see him. The beautiful man paused, a disturbed but also maybe pleased expression on his face, then finished tying the bandage.
"Do not get this bandage wet again," he said severely, and Luo Fusheng nodded, smiling, so, so happy to watch him. Then the beautiful man went away again and Luo Fusheng frowned through the spinning room at her... the lady cop... Xiao something...
"Why is he unhappy?" he asked her.
She eased him back against the bed and pulled the covers up. "I don't think he's unhappy. But he might, for once, be at a loss for answers." Her smile was very, very cute.
"He's incredibly beautiful," Luo Fusheng told her, because this was very important information to impart. His words were a bit slurred, though, and he wasn't sure she understood. She patted his forehead with a cool cloth -- so refreshing, how was it the middle of summer already? -- and giggled, "Yes, so you've said."
Luo Fusheng drifted, snuggling against the image of the beautiful man and the sound of Tianying's singing.
When Luo Fusheng finally woke up for real, he was disoriented and couldn't make any sense of the jumbled bits and pieces of memories and dreams. He gave up trying and shambled to the washroom and was taken aback by what he saw in the mirror. The bruise was almost gone from his chin, but his skin was pale and his cheeks hollow. His hair matted over his forehead. He peeled back the bath robe and checked his left arm. No bandage there, and the bullet graze had scabbed over. His right shoulder was still bandaged. He tentatively rolled it, hissed at the sharp twinge it gave him, then tried moving his arm and making a fist. Not too bad. On the mend.
He looked at his face again, not happy with the color or with the mustache growing in. He looked around and found a straight razor. He was about to shave when Luo Fei appeared in the doorway and said sharply, "What are you doing? That's my razor. Stop that."
Luo Fusheng folded the razor closed and turned off the water. He touched his upper lip. "I don't want a mustache. How long was I asleep, anyway?"
Luo Fei sniffed, taking the razor from him and returning it to its place. "You were feverish. Which is what happens when you don't keep your bandages clean. As you undoubtedly know, with the injuries you've had."
Luo Fusheng looked in the mirror again. Fever explained a lot. He wiped his palms down his cheeks. "I don't want a mustache," he said again, and he may have pouted a little. In case pouting worked with Luo Fei.
"You're not ruining my razor. I'll take you to a barber when we go to the tailor later."
Luo Fusheng turned to look at him. "Why are we going to the tailor?"
Luo Fei raised his chin slightly. "You have one set of clothes, and although they have all been laundered, they are full of cuts and holes. If you are to go out into the world on your own, you'll need something presentable to wear."
On his own... Luo Fusheng didn't mind the going out into the world part, but the on his own part didn't sound all that appealing.
The tailor was a short, grey-haired, European man with measuring tapes draped over his shoulders. He was nearly swallowed by all the racks of fabric and garments in his tiny shop but welcomed them both with enthusiastic gestures. Luo Fei rattled off a sentence or two in a language Luo Fusheng couldn't understand, drawing Luo Fusheng's attention away from the racks to watch. Luo Fei and the tailor conversed easily. In French, Luo Fusheng decided. They were in the French Concession, it made sense. As he watched, he discerned that not only was Luo Fei fluent in French, but he knew the tailor well. That also made sense, given how smart Luo Fei dressed. Today's stunning ensemble was a blue-grey subtle checked pattern with a blue waistcoat and a dark grey necktie.
The conversation ended, Luo Fei sat down on an upholstered bench by the shop's entrance, and the tailor emerged from behind the counter, holding a stubby pencil and a little notebook. He said something to Luo Fusheng, who looked past him at Luo Fei.
"Remove your jacket," Luo Fei translated. He sat perfectly straight and folded his hands over his walking stick. Luo Fusheng gingerly shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it at the bench. It winged Luo Fei slightly as it landed, and he pursed his lips.
"Sorry," Luo Fusheng said.
Luo Fusheng let the tailor pose him for measurements, stretching his arms out straight, which his right shoulder absolutely hated, and taking off his boots and standing with his legs apart. The tailor knelt to hold the measuring tape to Luo Fusheng's inseam and muttered something in French, scribbling a number in his notebook.
"Non," Luo Fei said firmly. Luo Fusheng had heard enough French in Mei Gao Mei to understand that word. The tailor looked over. "Non?" Luo Fei said something else in French. The tailor stretched the measuring tape again, scratched out the number he'd written in the notebook, and wrote a different number. Luo Fei looked mildly vindicated.
After the various measurements were taken, the tailor returned to the counter and made notes in a larger notebook. While he was writing, Luo Fei got up and handed Luo Fusheng his jacket. "I've ordered four shirts. Are there any particular fabrics you'd like?" He gestured at the racks looming from the walls around them.
As a matter of fact, Luo Fusheng had had his eyes on a print -- yellow leaf shapes on a black background -- that reminded him of a shirt he'd had in Dongjiang. He'd liked wearing it with a white suit because it was a snazzy look for a nightclub proprietor. He held out a corner of the fabric. "I like this one."
Luo Fei's face expressed his disapproval clearly and definitively, but he said nothing. Luo Fusheng let the fabric drop and asked, "What would you choose?"
Holding each one up to Luo Fusheng's chest, Luo Fei chose a simple white, a light blue, a muted grey, and a rich, dark blue, all in good quality fabrics. Luo Fusheng had to admit that plain shirts would be more useful to him for finding legitimate work in Shanghai. Then he wondered, for a brief moment, why he'd decided to stay in Shanghai and look for legitimate work.
"I also ordered two suits," Luo Fei told him. He touched a bolt of black fabric. "May I suggest this for one?" Luo Fusheng agreed, and Luo Fei almost smiled. He gestured between two bolts, one a grey windowpane pattern and one a brown tweed. Luo Fusheng again thought about what would be useful and chose the brown. Luo Fei spoke with the tailor as Luo Fusheng put on his suede jacket.
He had left Dongjiang with all of his squirreled away cash. He pulled out his money wallet to pay the tailor, but Luo Fei was already leaving the shop. Luo Fusheng went after him and grabbed his arm to stop him.
"Wait. How much did it cost?"
Luo Fei looked down at Luo Fusheng's hand on his arm and Luo Fusheng instantly let go.
"I need to pay," he said, holding up his wallet. As Hong's second-in-command, he hadn't paid for much of anything in Dongjiang but if he'd left that life behind, he had to get into regular habits.
"No need," Luo Fei said. "Come along."
Luo Fusheng followed him, puzzled. He decided that the payment wasn't needed until the clothes were finished.
After the tailor shop, they visited a barber, another European with whom Luo Fei spoke French. Luo Fusheng got the clean shave he wanted, a reviving steam and massage treatment on his face, and even a hair trim. He felt a lot better, and tipped generously when he paid the barber. Luo Fei, seeing this, remarked when they left, "Be more careful until you have a source of income. But perhaps this is not advice to give to a crime boss."
"I'm not a crime boss," Luo Fusheng countered, quickening his step to match Luo Fei's stride.
Next they visited a men's store where, with Luo Fei's subtle approval, Luo Fusheng purchased a shaving set, undergarments, socks, a pair of shoes, a pair of ankle-high work boots, denim jeans, blue velvet pajamas, and a dark brown bath robe. After writing out the delivery address for the store clerk, Luo Fei turned to Luo Fusheng and asked, "Hungry?"
They ate at a noodle stand near the store and Luo Fusheng practically inhaled his serving until he noticed Luo Fei eating more measuredly. Luo Fusheng slowed down, though he finished well before Luo Fei.
"Why do you keep calling me a crime boss?" Luo Fusheng asked. "Do I seem like one to you?"
Luo Fei paused, slurped down a noodle, and looked over at him, surprised by the question. "You were second-in-command of the Hong family. That position would place you in charge of men and certain businesses. A boss. The Hong family was involved in unlicensed prostitution, protection money, racketeering, to name a few. Crime." He met Luo Fusheng's gaze evenly. "Therefore, a crime boss."
Well, put that way, Luo Fusheng couldn't argue. He sat back on the bench, clasped his hands behind his head, and smiled ironically. "You got your facts right," he said, and Luo Fei nodded smugly before resuming eating. "But what I meant is, do I seem like a crime boss now? Have I been acting like a crime boss around you?" For all he knew, maybe he had been -- maybe some learned traits were invisible to him.
Luo Fei finished his noodles and pushed the bowl aside. "Until today, you haven't been in a state to do much of anything. You've acknowledged the accuracy of the description as it applies to you before Qin Xiaoman threw you onto my bed several nights ago. As to its accuracy now..." Luo Fei shrugged and widened his eyes. "Who can say?"
"I can say." Luo Fusheng narrowed his eyes and dropped his hands.
Luo Fei regarded him coolly. "Is the word of a crime boss to be trusted? You can admit the conundrum, surely? Until proven otherwise, the appellation known to be true must apply: crime boss."
"And how do I prove otherwise?" Luo Fusheng asked.
Luo Fei subtly smiled -- a smile which did not reach his eyes. "Prove to me, prove to the world, or prove to yourself?" He rose from the table.
"Proving to the world won't prove to you?" Luo Fusheng stood and fell into step with him.
That night Luo Fusheng changed into his new pajamas and bath robe and wandered into the living area. Luo Fei, who'd sent the bath robe Luo Fusheng had borrowed to be laundered, crouched in one of the leather chairs in his grey velvet pajamas. Luo Fusheng sat down in the other chair and said, "You don't need to sleep out here tonight. I'll take the chairs. You take the bed. Your landlady had all the sheets changed, I asked when we came back."
Luo Fei unfolded himself out of the chair and walked to the bedroom. "Get a good rest," he said, and closed the bedroom door.
Luo Fusheng pushed the two chairs together and climbed in, sort of like a giant leather cradle, and wrapped up in his robe. He dozed off thinking about how not to be a crime boss and slept better than he expected. In the early morning he woke up covered by a light blanket he did not remember having when he went to sleep. He listened to the sounds of Luo Fei moving about and dozed off again.
When he woke up later, it was fully morning and he was alone in the apartment. A light rapping on the door was followed by Susu's voice charmingly telling him to come downstairs to eat.
"Maybe Ye Changqing is right," Qin Xiaoman said with a frustrated sigh. She straightened her back and looked up from Luo Fei's desk, which was covered with papers and maps. Luo Fei bent over one map with a pen and a ruler, and adjusted his eyeglasses.
Luo Fusheng, sitting in the living area with today's newspaper, was trying not to eavesdrop but couldn't help observing them. They'd returned to the apartment over an hour ago and had been studying maps and photographs and reports ever since.
"Another gang killing at the docks," said Qin Xiaoman doubtfully. "As Ye Changqing said."
Interest piqued, Luo Fusheng now openly eavesdropped.
"No," Luo Fei said without lifting his head. "The victim was neither a dock worker nor a gang member. No gang would kill a civilian and leave the body where it could be found easily."
That's right, Luo Fusheng thought, vaguely proud of Luo Fei's reasoning.
"His hands were too smooth to be a dock worker," Qin Xiaoman agreed, "but how do we know he wasn't in a gang? They don't all do manual labor."
Luo Fei's gaze flicked up to her over his glasses before shooting across the room at Luo Fusheng. He said mildly to Qin Xiaoman, "Consider our crime boss friend here. Now consider the postmortem."
Qin Xiaoman paced in front of the desk as she thought. She stopped. "No scars. No wounds except for the lethal one."
Luo Fei nodded and hunched over the map again. Qin Xiaoman cocked her head and said slowly, "But it doesn't prove he wasn't in a gang... He might not have been in the gang long enough to acquire any scars."
Luo Fusheng snorted. Qin Xiaoman was a smart cop but still a rookie. Luo Fei straightened up and started to speak but stopped and gestured at Luo Fusheng. "Go ahead."
"If he wasn't in the gang long enough to be any fights, how would he make an enemy so fast?" Luo Fusheng said. "And if the body was dumped where anyone could find it, that's only done to send a message. You don't send a message by killing a guy who just joined and hasn't proven himself yet. No one's gonna care except his ma, maybe." He snorted again. "Doesn't sound like gangs to me."
He couldn't tell if Luo Fei's expression actually changed or if it was a trick played by the way the light hit Luo Fei's glasses. Luo Fei swept a hand in an arc above the desk. "Care to share any other expert insights?"
He might've meant to provoke Luo Fusheng, but Luo Fusheng was too curious to mind. He got up and joined them at the desk and picked up the photographs of the crime scene and the dead body.
"Definitely not a gang guy, not a new member. He's too old and flabby." Luo Fusheng tossed the photos of the victim back onto the desk. "No one would recruit that guy." He looked more closely at the crime scene pictures and glanced at the map Luo Fei had been studying. "Where was he found?"
Luo Fei pointed to the spot with his pen and stood back as Luo Fusheng came around the desk to examine the map. It was a stupid place to dump a body, in his opinion. No way someone wouldn't find it. Though if they were trying to make it look like gangs, that was the point. And at least one dumb cop believed it was gangs. Luo Fusheng frowned at the photos. There was something off about the way the body was lying on the street like that. He rubbed his lower lip, thinking, and was suddenly aware of Qin Xiaoman and Luo Fei both watching him.
"I... well... you probably know more about these things than I do..." He was self-conscious, the way Luo Fei's eyes were on him and giving him nothing to work with. He looked at Qin Xiaoman instead and rubbed the back of his neck. "But... seems... seems to me there's something wrong about the body."
"Oh?" Qin Xiaoman took the photos from his hand and shuffled through them, reading them closely. "What?"
Luo Fusheng made the mistake of glancing at Luo Fei again. Yeah, absolutely nothing there. Nothing but those breathtakingly gorgeous eyes boring holes into him, looking inside his skull and finding only crime boss.
Luo Fusheng shrugged. "I don't know. Just doesn't look right somehow," he mumbled. Luo Fei shifted maybe a hair's breadth, glanced down at the desk, and tapped his pen against his fingers.
Luo Fusheng went back to the chair and sank into it, picking up the newspaper and hiding behind it. He tried to block their continued cop-talk from his ears. Luo Fei had provoked him, he'd fallen into the trap, and he'd failed the test. They could keep their stupid cop theories and go on wild goose chases, for all he cared.
As he scanned the classified advertising in the newspaper, he kept thinking about the crime scene photos and what was wrong with the victim's body. It was better than thinking about the impenetrable barrier of Luo Fei's beautiful eyes, anyway.
He wasn't truly asleep when the sharp cry disturbed him. He sat up in the chair, kicked the other chair wide, and stood up, listening before springing into action. The next sound was a ghastly moan and it was coming from the bedroom.
Luo Fusheng hesitated. He didn't know as much about Luo Fei as he would like to -- an understatement -- but he was one hundred percent certain Luo Fei didn't want him barging into his bedroom in the middle of the night. On the other hand, he thought when another cry rattled him, Luo Fei couldn't want a nightmare, either. Luo Fusheng was no stranger to nightmares and felt a kind of duty to help out a fellow sufferer.
When he entered the bedroom Luo Fei thrashed to one side, pressing his face into the pillow, and sort of whimpered. Luo Fusheng froze. This was worse than he imagined. What could he do to help?
Then Luo Fei thrashed onto his other side and snarled something unintelligible and made that ghastly moan again. With great care Luo Fusheng crouched by the bed and rested one hand on Luo Fei's shoulder.
"It's just a dream," he said quietly. "Wake up. It's just a dream."
Saying the words niggled at something in his memory, something recent but lost. He gently shook Luo Fei's shoulder. "It's just a dream. It's all right."
Luo Fei relaxed and rolled over again, his back to Luo Fusheng. Luo Fusheng stood up but before he could leave the room, Luo Fei said from the bed, "What was wrong with the victim's body?"
Luo Fusheng stopped in his tracks and glanced back at the bed. All right, Smart Guy, he thought. You want to play this game? I'll play.
He went back to the bed and sat down comfortably beside Luo Fei's legs. Luo Fei shifted to sit up in bed and leaned against the bedframe. "What did you see in the photos?" he asked.
"The body was posed," Luo Fusheng replied. "Someone put it there that way."
It was too gloomy in the bedroom to see Luo Fei's face, much to Luo Fusheng's relief. Luo Fei's voice was neutral. "How could you tell?"
"Dead people don't fall down like that," Luo Fusheng said simply. Crime boss, so be it. Why should he have to prove himself to Luo Fei, anyway? "Especially not some old, flabby guy stabbed through the back like that," he continued. "He's gonna be surprised, and it's gonna be over pretty quick, judging by the size of that cut, but he's either gonna stagger or fall to his knees before he keels over. And either way that happens, on that uneven a surface? His body isn't going to fall perfectly straight like that, with both arms crossed in front of him."
Luo Fei was silent for a long moment before saying, "Yes, it's the arms. What else did you notice?"
Luo Fusheng thought back to the photos. "Well... didn't look like enough blood for a wound like that."
"Yes, even Ye Changqing noticed that," Luo Fei commented with a hint of amusement and Luo Fusheng almost pitied the guy because it was obvious Luo Fei wasn't his greatest fan. "So the body was moved from another location. What else?"
Luo Fusheng thought but came up blank. "Nothing else that I could see," he admitted. "Who was the victim, anyway?"
"That's what we're trying to determine," said Luo Fei. "There was something else about the body..." he mused. "I haven't put my finger on it yet, either."
"What about his clothes?" Luo Fusheng asked. "You can tell a lot about someone by their clothes."
"True," Luo Fei said with a tinge of irony in his voice.
He described the victim's clothes for Luo Fusheng, who didn't have any great breakthrough ideas, either, then they discussed the placement of the body again. Luo Fusheng remembered the map, and they talked about getting the body there from a different location and where the murder may have occurred. Luo Fusheng didn't know Shanghai well enough to have an opinion, but Luo Fei talked to him as if he might.
Luo Fusheng didn't know how long they talked, but after a while he yawned and his eyelids drooped. "That's all I got for tonight," he said apologetically. "I'm going back to the chair." He stood up.
"You noticed the placement of the arms and the amount of blood as soon as you saw the photographs, didn't you?" Luo Fei asked.
"Why didn't you say anything about it earlier, when Qin Xiaoman was here?"
Luo Fusheng chewed on his lip. "Because... because I was trying not to be a crime boss." I was trying not to disappoint you, he thought, and wished he knew why he'd felt that way.
He was at the door when Luo Fei said quietly, "Earlier. Waking me when you did. Thank you."
He meant to say, No one deserves nightmares, but what his sleepy brain sent to his mouth was, "You don't deserve nightmares," and he left the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Luo Fei and Qin Xiaoman were gone most of the time over the next two days, and Luo Fusheng was bored with being cooped up in the apartment, recuperating -- if that's what he was doing, and he wasn't exactly sure anymore, since his right shoulder was gonna hurt for a long time, rest or no rest. The new clothes hadn't arrived from the tailor yet, though, and Luo Fusheng felt obligated to stay until they did so he could pay for them. No matter what he ended up doing next -- if he fell back into his criminal ways -- he was going settle the tailor's bill. Not that paying his debt would prove anything to Luo Fei, of course, but for Luo Fusheng it was now a matter of pride.
He dressed in his new jeans and his old, stained, stabbed, worse-for-wear shirt, new work boots and old suede jacket, and out of habit put on his motorcycle gloves before he went out to explore the neighborhood. Shanghai was a lot like Dongjiang, similar in size and activity, but there was something more vivid about it, like there were secrets behind every door. Or maybe that was the influence of being around two cops.
He found a place that sold pan-fried dumplings but they were a disappointment. The Shanghai special dumplings were much better, and the pork buns not too bad. He strolled around and found a cinema, stopped to take in a show, and thought of Lan Lan's dream of becoming a famous matinee idol. Elder Brother Lin would keep her safe and make her happy, he knew, even if he couldn't make all her dreams come true.
When he'd satisfied enough of his curiosity about the neighborhood he returned to the Sullivan Apartments and nosed around downstairs. He met Susu's servant, the one who cooked for the tenants, and was amply fed while they chatted and he learned more about life here. Susu encountered them and invited him to her parlor for another long chat.
Susu wasn't a gossip by nature, he could tell, but it didn't take much prompting to steer the subject toward Luo Fei, who was her most interesting tenant. "So far," she added with a lipstick-heavy smile.
Balancing the tray in one hand, Luo Fusheng opened the door to the roof with the other and stepped outside, careful not to spill anything.
"But if he goes back to Dongjiang, what would—" Qin Xiaoman stopped in mid-sentence and stared at him as he brought the tray over to where she and Luo Fei were sitting, Qin Xiaoman in an old desk chair, Luo Fei on a ledge.
Luo Fusheng set the tray down with a flourish. "Susu insists you both eat," he said, lifting the lids. "It's still hot. Please enjoy the meal."
Then he caught sight of the city's nightscape around them and stared in wonder. It was beautiful up here, with the lights blinking and the crisp night air. The street sounds below were a soft, unobtrusive soundtrack. No wonder Luo Fei and Qin Xiaoman liked it up here.
They were watching him. He grinned self-consciously and said, "I've never been up here before." Obviously. What a dumb thing to say. "It's nice, isn't it?"
Qin Xiaoman's smile made him feel better. "It is." She picked up her chopsticks. "Aren't you going to have some?"
"I ate mine already."
There was an awkward pause while he stood, smiling at them, silently willing them both to tuck in, and Luo Fei remained motionless, boring more holes into him with his gaze, and Qin Xiaoman held her chopsticks over a bowl of rice uncertainly. She broke the moment by taking a bite, and Luo Fusheng rubbed his hands together and nodded. "Good, I'll go first. Susu asks if you could bring the tray back when you're done."
He looked around as he walked back to the door, taking in the all the wonderful lights and trying to forget Luo Fei's severe look. Trying to forget how the warm neon glow caressed Luo Fei's face and made it, if it were possible, even more beautiful.
The new clothes arrived the next day from the tailor shop while Luo Fei was out with Qin Xiaoman. When Luo Fusheng tried to pay, however, the delivery boy refused his money and left. Luo Fusheng caught up with him on the stairs and grabbed the kid's arm.
"Whaddya mean I don't have to pay?" he demanded.
The kid's eyes went wide and he stammered, "It's... it's already paid for... Mister Luo's account is paid up... Nothing owed..." He gulped like a fish.
Luo Fusheng let go of him and was sorry he scared the kid. He took a few deep breaths. "Are you saying that Luo Fei paid for those clothes?"
"Y-y-yes?" The kid replied and fled down the stairs.
Luo Fusheng went back into the apartment, grabbed up the pile of clothes all neatly presented on hangers, stalked into the bedroom and threw them against the bed. He paced back and forth, hands on his hips, shooting a few sidelong glances at them.
Stinking cops. He should've known. Why would Luo Fei be any better than the rest of them? Because of his beautiful eyes? Ha. There were probably poisonous snakes with eyes as beautiful.
He stopped in front of the bed and glared at the shirts and suits now crumpled together across the mattress. He thought about burning them or at least ripping them to shreds. He still had his flick knife tucked into the inner pocket of his jacket.
No. Why bother? Luo Fei had made it clear that nothing Luo Fusheng did would erase that label, crime boss. So why not wear the clothes Luo Fei had wasted his money on?
Luo Fusheng stripped out of his old stuff and dressed up in the dark blue shirt, black suit vest and trousers. Everything fit perfectly, though he rolled up the sleeves to his elbow out of habit. He went into the washroom and combed his hair as neatly as it would allow and, with a sneering smirk, borrowed Luo Fei's razor to touch up his shave. He returned to the bedroom and started folding all the clothes up. He didn't have a suitcase, not even the old saddlebag from his motorcycle, so he shoved everything onto his suede jacket and tied it up like sack. He'd have to abandon the shoes, of course, and was trying to decide which pair of boots to wear when Luo Fei came home.
Luo Fusheng marched up to him before Luo Fei could even take off his hat, grabbed his lapels and shoved him against the door.
"That was a nice, dirty trick you played on me," he said. "Real nice."
Luo Fei, shoulders bunched, eyes wide, slowly glanced down at him and said, "I see the clothes were delivered today."
Luo Fusheng tightened his grip. "Great detective work," he said and huffed out a laugh. "Stinking cop. You're all alike. If you're not on the payroll, you think you're so much better than the rest of us. Looking down your nose at us, thinking we can't even pay our own bills. Thinking we can't change even when we want to." He felt he'd said more than he wanted and to cover it up, he let go of one lapel and bunched his hand into a fist and aimed it at Luo Fei's pretty nose. "I oughta..."
Luo Fei, despite the wide eyes, was not afraid of him. He wasn't pleased, of course, to have his lapels manhandled and his body pressed against the door -- but he wasn't afraid.
Luo Fusheng let his fist drop to his side, loosened his hold and let go. "Don't worry," he muttered, heading back into the bedroom. "I'll be on my way."
Luo Fei followed him, not even bothering to remove his hat, and stood in the bedroom doorway. "Before you leave," he said, "perhaps you'd care to explain what this nice trick I played on you was?"
Luo Fusheng shot him a look. Great. Another test, like the crime scene photos.
"You thought I'd stiff the tailor so you paid him when I wasn't looking," he spat out. "And now I owe you. The crime boss owes the cop. What a joke, huh? Except guess what, Smarty Pants. I'm going to pay you back. You didn't think I would, did you? The money I have left should be more than enough, and it's all sitting on your desk. So I'm gonna take the clothes and leave."
He sat down on the bed and took off his new work boots to change into his old boots. With the trouser legs untucked over them, they'd look all right, and if he got a new motorcycle, they'd be better for riding.
Luo Fei bowed his head and took off his hat. He held it in front of himself by the brim. "That's not... That man is my tailor. I have all my suits made there. By default, everything I order there is charged to my account. It wasn't even discussed. It was assumed."
The anger left Luo Fusheng like air out of a burst tire. He looked up, frowning. "But the kid said your account is paid up."
"My account is paid directly by my bank, and I review the charges monthly, when I have the time. The bill wouldn't have been sent yet, as the clothes only arrived today."
"You were gonna ask me to reimburse you when the bill came?" Luo Fusheng asked, still frowning.
Luo Fei's gaze skittered away from him before meeting his frown. "If I remembered to," he said, perfectly honest.
"Oh." Luo Fusheng relaxed, feeling a bit stupid for having gotten so angry. But how was he supposed to know? What had Luo Fei and the tailor been talking about in French for all that time? The cut of his trousers?
He finished yanking on his boots. "Well, the agreement was I'd leave when the clothes came."
"Where are you going to go?" Luo Fei's fingers were dancing on the brim of his hat, turning it around in a slow circle.
"I don't know." Luo Fusheng shrugged. "But at least I'll look good getting there, huh?" He patted the new vest and grinned up at Luo Fei.
Luo Fei looked at him seriously and, inexplicably, now he seemed afraid. Luo Fusheng's grin faded.
"Won't you need money, wherever you're going?" Luo Fei said, a distinct fussiness in his voice all of a sudden. "If you leave all your money with me, you won't have anything left." He tilted his chin up and narrowed his eyes. "You'll be tempted to fall back into your criminal habits."
Luo Fusheng watched him, not knowing what to say. He wasn't stupid -- he understood Luo Fei was trying to ask him to stay. Or trying not to ask. But why he was trying -- was something Luo Fusheng couldn't speculate on. Not with Luo Fei.
He lowered his eyes and after a long pause said, "When... when the bill comes... you'll know exactly how much I owe, right?" He picked at the knee of his trousers a bit.
Luo Fusheng swallowed, still picking at his knee and not looking at Luo Fei. "So... so when the bill comes... I can pay my debt and probably have some money left over. Money I'll need to keep from falling back into my criminal habits."
"Yes." Luo Fei sounded relieved. "That's settled, then."
Was it settled? Luo Fusheng wanted to ask, but didn't dare. He snuck a glance at Luo Fei, who'd stopped worrying the brim of his hat and cast his gaze past Luo Fusheng to the makeshift sack of clothes on the bed.
"You'd better take that to the laundry next door and have everything pressed. No sense on wasting your money on wrinkled rags." He spun on his heels and went back to hang up his hat.
Luo Fusheng got up and leaned against the doorjamb. "I... uh... I was mad. I used your razor today," he confessed.
Luo Fei spun again and looked at him, eyebrows raised. "To do what?" he asked, and there was a hint of teasing in his eyes, as if daring Luo Fusheng to say he'd used it to slit someone's throat.
Yeah, Luo Fusheng was better off not trying to guess anything about Luo Fei.
He met the boyfriend the following day. For some reason, Luo Fei woke up in a chipper mood and bustled about the apartment noisily until Luo Fusheng roused from a fitful sleep in the leather chair cradle. Tired and grumpy, Luo Fusheng washed, dressed in his new brown suit paired with the light blue shirt, and groomed himself to look like someone who'd had more than a couple of hours of shut-eye.
"Ready?" Luo Fei asked brightly as soon as Luo Fusheng emerged from the washroom. Luo Fei looked like a matinee idol in his blue windowpane suit and vest, the chain of his pocket watch dangling.
"For what?" Luo Fusheng asked with misgivings. Luo Fei's eyes were actually sparkling. Or maybe Luo Fusheng was still half-asleep and imagining things.
"To see a dead body," Luo Fei said with a smile that was too charming to be sinister.
Luo Fusheng had seen enough dead bodies in his life that seeing one more was neither a problem nor an attraction, but if it meant tagging along with Luo Fei, he didn't have any objections. They met Qin Xiaoman in the hallway and she smiled at them and gave Luo Fei a meaningful look Luo Fei studiously ignored.
They walked to the main police station in the French Concession, the place where Luo Fusheng had been so frustrated by indifference on the night of his arrival. He was not a great fan of entering police stations and said as much as they went inside. Qin Xiaoman cocked her head, looking like she wanted to hear details. Luo Fei quickened his step and led them down into a gloomy tiled basement morgue.
The coroner was tall, well-dressed, wide-shouldered, and very handsome. He smiled at their arrival and his eyes rested on Luo Fusheng. Ah ha. The boyfriend.
"Ben Jie Ming. Luo Fusheng." Luo Fei's introductions were short and efficient. He left them sizing each other up and approached the body on the slab. Qin Xiaoman was more cautious around the dead body. Professional about it, but not at ease.
The victim was a skinny, balding man with a strange tattoo on his left arm. Luo Fusheng examined the tattoo while Luo Fei, Qin Xiaoman, and Ben Jie Ming talked shop. They inventoried the man's physical state, detailing the manner of his death, which was a chokehold around his neck. Luo Fusheng tuned them out, more interested in the tattoo, until out of nowhere Luo Fei's arm folded around his neck from behind.
Luo Fusheng's instincts were deeply ingrained and before he realized what he was doing to whom, he'd grabbed Luo Fei's arm and twisted it away from his body. Luo Fei went limp, eyes bulging a little, and said excitedly, "See? Like this."
"Luo Fusheng!" Qin Xiaoman came at him and he let Luo Fei go and backed off, hands raised.
"Sorry! Sorry!" To Luo Fei he said, "Are you all right?"
Luo Fei rubbed his arm. "I'm fine." He went over to the dead body again. "The point is the human instinct to fight back. Now, our victim's reflexes may not have been as expertly honed as our friend Luo Fusheng's here, but nevertheless."
Qin Xiaoman shot Luo Fusheng a disappointed, warning look. Luo Fusheng went over to Luo Fei.
"You're sure you're all right?" he asked, and lifted Luo Fei's forearm, rubbing it a little.
"Yes, yes. You were as gentle as a lamb. A lamb trained to kill, but the point stands."
Luo Fusheng had no idea what that meant and kept rubbing Luo Fei's arm until Luo Fei pulled it back. Luo Fusheng remembered the boyfriend and moved away to get a better look at the guy.
In addition to being handsome, he was polite, well-mannered, quiet, smart. A catch, in other words. And he shared Luo Fei's fascination with dead bodies, since he was the coroner. The way they talked to each other, they had history, and they moved in and out of each other's space with ease. Well, it was nice to see, Luo Fusheng thought, burying his baffling disappointment.
"What did you make of the tattoo?"
Lost in his own musings, it took Luo Fusheng a moment to realize Luo Fei was talking to him. They all looked at him with interest, and Luo Fusheng shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from scratching the back of his neck.
"Well... I..." He went over to the slab, took a breath, and started again. "See the way this dragon is shaped?" He outlined it in the air with one finger. "That's a Japanese style."
Qin Xiaoman and Ben Jie Ming reacted. Luo Fei narrowed his eyes at the tattoo.
"Are you certain?" Qin Xiaoman asked.
"I've seen it, ones like it, before. A couple of years ago a Japanese trawler was damaged in a storm off the coast near Dongjiang. Local fishermen brought the survivors to our port. They were a rough crew, and our fishermen didn't believe they knew much about fishing, at least not in these waters. But if they were blown off course by the storm..." He shrugged.
"No," Luo Fei said. "We know this man is not Japanese."
"Maybe he isn't," said Luo Fusheng, "but his tattoo is."
"Why..." Ben Jie Ming started to say when Luo Fei's entire manner changed, sharpened, and his eyes almost glowed, like his ideas were lighting up inside.
Beautiful man, Luo Fusheng thought, spellbound.
"That's it, that's it," Luo Fei said excitedly. "Yes. The tattoo is." He pointed at the dead man's arm and smiled.
Qin Xiaoman and Ben Jie Ming looked at each other blankly. Luo Fei waited a beat for them to catch up. Qin Xiaoman did first, a smile curving on her lips as she faced Luo Fei. "The sister-in-law!" she said, triumphant. Luo Fei's answering smile was generous and proud.
"It's the tattoo!" Luo Fei said and nodded, turning to beam at Luo Fusheng. He grabbed Luo Fusheng's shoulders and kissed his cheek. "The tattoo was the key."
And before Luo Fusheng could catch his breath, Luo Fei and Qin Xiaoman had rushed out of the morgue to go catch their killer.
In the silent, gloomy aftermath, that left Luo Fusheng alone with the boyfriend.
"Did you understand that? Because I sure didn't," Luo Fusheng said and without thinking, he touched his cheek where Luo Fei's lips had brushed it.
Ben Jie Ming bent over the corpse with a scalpel. He glanced up with a slight smile. "No," he admitted. "But the important thing is that they did. And you provided the key."
"I don't know how..." Luo Fusheng leaned a hip against the slab and looked at the dead man disinterestedly. "Seems... seems like something anyone could figure out."
"Anyone with your experience," said Ben Jie Ming, continuing to work, slicing into the dead skin. He paused and glanced up again. "I beg your pardon. I didn't mean..."
"It's okay," Luo Fusheng said with a shrug. "We all know about my experience, I guess."
A long moment passed. Luo Fusheng wondered if Ben Jie Ming forgot he was there. He admired the guy's focus on his work, gave him a new appreciation for coroners. He'd bet Ben Jie Ming had seen a few fascinating things in his day, too, but he didn't seem the type to gossip.
"Hey," he said, sliding an apology into his voice. "I'm sorry if my being put up at Luo Fei's place has kept him busy. Kept him away for a while."
Ben Jie Ming straightened and gave him a faintly puzzled look. "Kept him away? No. He's been here several times, as the cases warrant."
Luo Fusheng blinked at him.
Not the boyfriend, his brain kicked him before he could say anything stupid. He put on a smile, said his good-byes, and left the police station for a slow, distracted walk back to the apartment. Susu met him in the front hall as he arrived, and he spent another hour or two in her parlor, playing mah-jongg with some of her friends and picking up any scraps of gossip about Luo Fei.
When Luo Fei and Qin Xiaoman failed to come home at a reasonable hour, Susu let him inside Luo Fei's apartment with her master key. He got ready for bed and settled in his leather chair nest, wondering why Ben Jie Ming wasn't the boyfriend.
The question Susu and her friends had was why Xiaoman wasn't the girlfriend, but Luo Fusheng could answer that. He'd spent his life around Lan Lan and knew exactly what brotherly affection looked, felt, and acted like. Plus they were colleagues, so there was a little mentor-mentee in the relationship, too. He also didn't think Xiaoman was looking for a boyfriend, not just yet. She was enjoying being a cop and living her life.
But why wasn't Ben Jie Ming the boyfriend? The conclusion he reached was that Luo Fei and Ben Jie Ming were too much alike in some unfortunate ways. He crudely (he admitted) tried to imagine them together in bed and ended up with them sitting side by side, both too reticent to say what they wanted and neither of them passionate enough to just go for it.
Except Luo Fei was passionate.
Why did Luo Fusheng think this? What passion had he seen? One for dead bodies? No, he didn't mean anything gross by that.
Maybe he wanted to believe Luo Fei was passionate because it seemed a tragedy for such a beautiful man not to have some passion in his life. What did he really know about Luo Fei, when it came right down to it? Beautiful eyes, beautiful intelligence, and all the scraps of gossip he'd gathered.
Luo Fusheng flopped around on the chairs, trying to get comfortable with the light blanket tangling with him. What he knew about Luo Fei right this moment was that it was really late, and it had been hours and hours since the cops had left to get their suspect. He didn't like this. Something felt wrong.
He was up, dressed in his old clothes, armed with his flick knife, and out of the apartment within a quarter of an hour. He went to the police station first -- maybe they were interrogating their suspect, who was proving to be a tough nut to crack. No luck, but Ben Jie Ming was still working in the morgue.
Snoozing in the morgue, as it happened. He sat upright in a chair, his arms crossed over his chest and his head bowed to one side. As soon as Luo Fusheng strode over to him, Ben Jie Ming startled awake and looked around.
"They haven't come back yet?" he asked, worried.
"No, and they didn't come home. Do you have the case file? Do you know where they went?" Luo Fusheng noticed the tattooed man wasn't on the slab anymore, and had been replaced by some jars of what had been someone's internal organs.
Ben Jie Ming searched through the file folders on his desk and found the right one. He and Luo Fusheng read it together, Luo Fusheng bent over his shoulder.
"Qin Xiaoman said, 'the sister-in-law.'" Luo Fusheng tapped a name in the report. "But I don't see an address." He flexed his fingers impatiently and continued reading.
"There," Ben Jie Ming said. "They must've gone there."
"Where the hell's that?" Luo Fusheng asked and Ben Jie Ming pulled a map out from his desk drawer and showed him. Luo Fusheng looked at the distance. "You don't happen to have a motorcycle, do you?"
Ben Jie Ming smiled at him, a small smile that tried not to be as shy as it was. "No, but the police cars are parked right above the morgue."
Luo Fusheng grinned. He liked the Not Boyfriend. "Can you get us a key to one?"
Ben Jie Ming opened his desk drawer. He cleared his throat. "I appear to have forgotten to return one the last time Luo Fei and Qin Xiaoman needed a car."
Luo Fusheng slapped his shoulder appreciatively.
Ben Jie Ming got up and shrugged into his overcoat. "Maybe we should get someone else..." he said doubtfully. "Ye Changqing..."
Luo Fusheng rolled his eyes and rested his fists on his hips. "Do you think he will help or hinder us?"
Ben Jie Ming sighed. He didn't like feeling disloyal. "All right."
Ben Jie Ming drove. Luo Fusheng didn't know his way around Shanghai and would only get them lost. Especially since wherever they were going was farther away in the boonies than he'd imagined. His senses told him something was very wrong, and to distract himself he casually asked Ben Jie Ming, "So. You've known Luo Fei a long time?"
"Yes, for many years."
Not surprising that Ben Jie Ming wasn't much of a talker. Luo Fusheng would have to do a little prompting.
"What kind of man is he?"
Ben Jie Ming stared straight ahead at the road. "He's... Luo Fei feels things very deeply."
No kidding, Luo Fusheng thought.
"Would you say he's passionate?"
"I... I may not be the right person to—"
"Stop the car!"
Ben Jie Ming braked hard and Luo Fusheng threw open the door and barreled out onto the road. Qin Xiaoman limped along the side, holding her head with one hand, her other hand clutching the thigh of her injured leg.
"Xiaoman!" Ben Jie Ming ran up to them and put an arm around her shoulders. Luo Fusheng quickly looked her over, then scanned the road.
"Are you all right? What happened? Where's Luo Fei?"
"Luo Fei..." She cringed. "He told me to go on... to get help..." Her eyelids fluttered.
"You're hurt," Ben Jie Ming said, helping her to the car. "We have to take you to a hospital."
"I'm all right." She shook her head. "Luo Fei. They still have him. At the house. The basement..." Her words started to slur as Ben Jie Ming laid her out across the backseat. A fresh blood stain blossomed over her trousers where she'd let go of her thigh.
"She has to get to a hospital," Ben Jie Ming said, looking Luo Fusheng in the eye.
"I have to get to Luo Fei."
Ben Jie Ming nodded and gave him general directions while tying a makeshift tourniquet around Qin Xiaoman's thigh. She roused enough to say, "It's the white house with butterflies."
Butterflies? At this time of year? Poor kid was in bad shape. Luo Fusheng patted her shoulder. "Hang on. You're gonna be fine." He exchanged a worried look with Ben Jie Ming, then ran off down the road. He heard the car start up and turn around, heading back into the city.
The poor kid had it right. The gate of the white house was decorated with butterfly shapes carved into the wood. Impressive work, too, Luo Fusheng thought, running a hand over the carvings.
The street, the house, everything was dark and quiet. Luo Fusheng walked back to give himself a running jump to reach the top of the garden wall. He hugged it for a moment, holding his breath, waiting, then dropped down onto the other side and crept through the garden as silent as a cat.
Despite the outer wall, the gate, and the garden, the house itself was European style, and there was a separate entrance around the back that led into the basement. It was locked, of course, but that was only a momentary obstacle.
The basement was one big room with a dirt floor. A lightbulb hung from the ceiling and Luo Fusheng screwed it into its socket until it cast its weak light into the darkness. It swung and created disturbing shadows as he checked the room.
There were the cut and frayed ropes fallen away from an overturned chair. Shoe prints in the dirt between the chair and a narrow window high in the wall. Small, female sized shoe prints. Luo Fusheng crouched down to check the dirt floor more closely and now he saw them: larger, male sized shoe prints, three sets. The middle set taking only a few steps before being dragged. Dragged to...
He followed the footprints to a large iron coal stove the size of a wardrobe. He froze, staring at the door in its belly. Yes, a man could fit inside that stove. Yes, a man of Luo Fei's build could be stuffed through that door.
Luo Fusheng swallowed. His vision swam and he blinked back tears. "Luo Fei," he said, voice wavering. "No. Not Luo Fei. Please." He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
A metallic thudding erupted from the stove, fierce and agitated. Luo Fusheng scrambled across the floor and wrenched open the heavy iron door.
The coal stove was cold and empty except for Luo Fei, who squirmed out of it head and shoulders first and tumbled into Luo Fusheng's arms. He was covered in soot, coughing, disheveled, hatless, and his hands were bound behind his back. Luo Fusheng, holding him with one arm, got out his knife and cut the rope easily, freeing his hands. Luo Fei slumped against him, rubbing his wrists.
"Thank—" He shook from coughing so hard.
All the racket they were making was going to set the goons on them sooner rather than later, and Luo Fusheng was frankly looking forward to it. How dare they. How dare they hurt Xiaoman and Luo Fei. How dare they cram Luo Fei into a coal stove to await the worst. Oh, he was looking forward to it all right. Let them try. He wrinkled his nose and grinned. He'd show them just how good he'd been as the Hongs' second-in-command.
He kept his knife ready and looked toward the stairs leading up to the main part of the house, keeping one arm around Luo Fei's waist, ready to push him behind and shield him when the fun started.
"They're gone," Luo Fei said, his voice low and scratchy. "They left some time ago, after Qin Xiaoman escaped. If they found her..." He broke off, shivering, clenching his jaw.
"They didn't," Luo Fusheng told him. He shut his knife and slid it back into his pocket. "They didn't find her. We did. Me and Ben Jie Ming. She's hurt. Stabbed in the leg, nothing bad if it doesn't bleed too much. He took her to a hospital."
Luo Fei's feet gave out and he crumpled against Luo Fusheng, who grabbed him to hold him upright.
"She's alive?" Luo Fei asked, needing to be certain.
"Yeah, last I saw her."
Luo Fei nodded, eyes closed, and righted himself. "She's alive. Thank you." He opened his eyes and glanced around and sighed deeply. "We shouldn't stay here. They might come back."
"Don't you want to arrest them?"
Luo Fei gave him a slow look, the first time he'd met Luo Fusheng's eyes since coming out of the coal stove. "I want to eviscerate them," he said coldly, his eyes dark. "But the two of us on our own can do neither of those things." At Luo Fusheng's look he smirked. "Yes, possibly the latter, Crime Boss, but I'm supposed to be keeping you from sliding back into your criminal ways, remember?"
Was that what their arrangement was, Luo Fusheng wondered.
"As to the former," Luo Fei said, brushing some soot from his clothes, which were sadly ruined, "I can't arrest anybody without Qin Xiaoman. She's the policewoman. I'm only a consulting detective."
This was surprising news to Luo Fusheng, who said, "You're going to explain all of this to me on the walk back." He took Luo Fei's elbow and steered him toward the door to the garden.
Luo Fei said, "I'm not going to explain anything." He stepped outside first and filled his lungs with cold night air. "But I'll gladly answer questions."
Luo Fusheng ran out of questions about the time the first light blushed across the sky. Not so much because he didn't have more things to ask -- he wasn't sure if he would ever run out of things to ask Luo Fei -- but because he was deeply, utterly, overwhelmingly exhausted. He had never been so exhausted in his life.
He carried Luo Fei part of the way, when Luo Fei's legs gave out again. Being folded into the coal stove for hours had taken its toll in various ways. First Luo Fusheng carried him on his back, but Luo Fei dozed off and his arms went loose and he started to slide off. Then Luo Fusheng carried him in his arms, and it reminded him of a book Xu Xingyuan had had when they were kids. It was a book of foreign, illustrated children's stories, and in one of them a hero prince saved a bewitched princess by carrying her off in his arms. Luo Fusheng looked down at Luo Fei, asleep in his arms, and smiled, remembering the illustrations.
When Luo Fei woke up, he startled so much Luo Fusheng dropped him and rolled onto the road after him. Luo Fei crawled over to the grass beside the road and sat cross-legged.
"Rest," he commanded.
Luo Fusheng was in no state to argue. He stretched out on the grass beside him.
"Is there ever any traffic on this road?" he wondered, closing his eyes. What if the goons came back this way and saw them? Or -- better thought -- what if some nice person in a car drove by and gave them ride back into the city?
He yawned and fell asleep and missed Luo Fei's answer.
When he woke up he was moving and he was in the back of a car. His first thought was the goons and he reached for his knife. Then he heard Luo Fei say, "I don't think he'd have actually eviscerated anybody, but whether he's capable of doing it or not is an open question."
Luo Fusheng sat up in the back of the police car Ben Jie Ming was driving. It was a bright, early morning and they were on the outskirts of the city.
"You were the one who wanted to eviscerate them," Luo Fusheng pointed out, joining the conversation. Ben Jie Ming gave Luo Fei a sidelong look. Luo Fei became interested in picking at his fingernails.
"How's Qin Xiaoman?" Luo Fusheng asked, figuring the answer wouldn't be too bad, otherwise Ben Jie Ming wouldn't have come back for them, and Luo Fei wouldn't have been calmly speculating on Luo Fusheng's ability to eviscerate people.
"She's doing well," Ben Jie Ming said with great relief. "She didn't lose as much blood as we feared, and she's very strong. A few stitches and some rest is all she needs."
Luo Fusheng grinned and sat back in the car seat. "That's great news." He clasped his hands behind his head and looked out the window. "Funny, I never thought I'd be celebrating the good health of a cop," he laughed.
Luo Fei twisted around to look at him. "Did you ever think you'd be rescuing a cop by pulling him out of a coal stove?" His eyes -- beautiful eyes -- sparkled, there was no other way to describe them.
"I thought you weren't a real cop anymore," Luo Fusheng said, flashing teeth.
Luo Fei raised his eyebrows and gave a little shrug. "Am I still a cop? Are you still a crime boss? Interesting questions." He turned back to face the road.
Luo Fusheng scowled at the back of his head. What was that supposed to mean?
After they checked on Xiaoman at the hospital, Luo Fei, despite his grimy condition, stayed at the police station to make his reports or whatever it was that cops, even quasi-cops, did after the bad guys got away. Ben Jie Ming was in trouble for taking the police car without authorization, and Luo Fusheng felt bad about it and would've taken the fall for him -- a night or two in lock-up, at most -- but Ben Jie Ming ushered him out of the station and assured him it would be all right. Luo Fusheng walked home, happily consumed the meal Susu insisted on having fixed for him, and retired upstairs.
After a long soak in the bath tub, he dressed in his black suit trousers and grey shirt, and sprawled in one of the leather chairs, too tired to think. He fell asleep again and woke up disoriented because it was still daytime, though he had no idea what time it was.
The sound of water lightly splashing in the washroom told him Luo Fei had returned. Luo Fusheng got up and paced the stiffness out of his back and legs. He checked on the time and lightly rapped on the washroom door.
"Luo Fei? Did you eat anything yet?"
There was no answer so he rapped again. "Luo Fei?"
No answer and no splashing sounds. Luo Fusheng quietly opened the door. Luo Fei sat in the bathtub, his arms along the sides, his head tilted forward, breathing deeply, fast asleep. Luo Fusheng watched him for a moment, not above taking this chance to appreciate his firm, slender, naked body, then remembered hearing stories about how someone could drown by falling sleep in a bathtub. He slinked across the tile floor and knelt down to gently shake Luo Fei's shoulder.
"Wake up. I don't want you to drown," he said. "Not after everything it took to get you back home."
He paused. It felt strange—yet right—to think of "home."
He shook Luo Fei's shoulder again. "Princess, wake up."
Luo Fei inhaled a sharp breath and lifted his head up. He drew back, out of Luo Fusheng's grasp, and gave him a level, indecipherable look.
"What did you call me?"
Luo Fusheng stood up and masked his private smile by asking, "Did you eat anything yet?"
"No." Luo Fei rolled his shoulders and settled in the bathtub, looking away.
"I'll have dinner waiting."
Luo Fei raised a hand and flicked it at him lazily, sending him away. Luo Fusheng closed the door behind him and went downstairs to charm the best possible dinner out of Susu's cook.
Luo Fei was quiet at dinner, eating at his desk, and afterward he left the apartment without saying a word. He hadn't taken his coat or hat, though, not even a jacket, so after Luo Fusheng returned their dishes downstairs, he went up to the rooftop. The sun was setting in slow pinks, and the night was warmer than it had been lately.
Luo Fei sat on the ledge, his legs dangling down the front of the building, and from anyone else, this would have been a frightening, dangerous pose. But Luo Fei looked comfortable there, watching the line of rooftops. He'd been smoking a cigar. He stubbed it out and popped the remainder into his vest pocket.
Luo Fusheng ambled across the roof, taking it all in because he could never tire of this sight. When he reached Luo Fei, he sat down on the ledge beside him, facing in.
"I called you 'princess,'" he said.
The neon signs were lighting up, bathing Luo Fei's face in soft, warm colors.
"I heard you. I wasn't asleep."
Luo Fusheng nodded and looked down at his hands. "I... I didn't mean it... like... that. It was because when I carried you on the road, it reminded me of something I saw in a children's book once." He pulled at his fingers, rubbing his knuckles, noticing tiny scars on his hands that he barely recalled getting.
After a silent moment, Luo Fei said with a slight sigh, "A princess saved by a handsome prince and carried away."
Luo Fusheng nodded again and glanced over. Luo Fei watched him. Beautiful eyes. Luo Fusheng couldn't stop looking at them, they were binding him as tightly as any rope, capturing him as securely as any set of handcuffs. This skyline, these lights, those stars above them -- nothing was as beautiful as Luo Fei right now. So beautiful it made Luo Fusheng hurt inside, hurt more than being stabbed in the shoulder. Made him wish he'd never killed, never robbed, never threatened, never harmed any being anywhere.
He looked away, blinking, and stood up. "I'll go first." He didn't wait for Luo Fei to say anything, and didn't look back. If he looked back, he'd change his mind about what he needed to do.
Luo Fusheng, curled under the blanket in his leather chair nest, closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep when Luo Fei returned from the roof. He listened to Luo Fei moving about. There was a creak in the floor right by the bedroom door that Luo Fusheng knew by heart by now. He heard it twice, but Luo Fei was so silent that when he spoke, it made Luo Fusheng jump out of his skin.
"You don't have to sleep there," Luo Fei said. He stood there in his grey velvet pajamas and bath robe, looking tall and tired. "I know it's not comfortable."
"You're the one who was trapped in a coal stove." Luo Fusheng attempted a smile. "You need the bed more than I do."
"We both need the bed. Come on." He moved his hand and tapped Luo Fusheng's arm.
Luo Fusheng stared up at him. "You're... you're asking me... Are you asking me to go to bed with you?" He swallowed and wondered when he would remember how to breathe.
"I'm saying, come to bed and sleep." Luo Fei sounded faintly annoyed.
Luo Fusheng inhaled and exhaled and saved his mind from the sinking into the gutter. "Aren't you worried about sharing your bed with a crime boss?" he asked, finding refuge in provoking Luo Fei.
"Are you planning to do anything to me that I should be worried about?" Luo Fei sounded even more annoyed.
Luo Fusheng chuckled softly. "At the moment, as tired as I am, anything I would plan to do I wouldn't be capable of."
"Well, then." Luo Fei turned around and padded back to the bedroom.
Luo Fusheng waited for his heartbeat to slow down before tossing off the blanket. He picked up the bundle of his clothes wrapped in his suede jacket, and followed Luo Fei into the bedroom.
Luo Fei sat up in the bed, wearing his pajamas and eyeglasses, reading by lamplight. He glanced up when Luo Fusheng entered, scanned his clothes and the bundle he carried, and slammed the book shut, staring at him.
"You were going to leave," he said, coldly angry. "Tonight."
Luo Fusheng looked down at his suit and dropped the bundle of clothes onto the chair. "Oh. Yeah, I was." He unbuttoned his vest. "I'll be back in a minute."
He went into the washroom and changed into his pajamas. When he came back, Luo Fei was reading again. Luo Fusheng got into bed on the side clearly left empty for him and stretched out comfortably. He closed his eyes and listened to pages turning.
"I didn't take you for a coward," Luo Fei said after some time.
"I'm not a coward."
"Yet you were going to leave in the night without saying a word. Something a coward would do."
Luo Fusheng rolled onto his side, his back to Luo Fei. "I didn't leave."
Luo Fusheng wasn't surprised to wake up in the bed alone. He was more surprised that he'd slept at all, since he'd been aware of Luo Fei with every sense, with every part of his body, as soon as he'd gotten under the bedcovers with him. He flopped onto his back and looked up at the ceiling and listened. He couldn't hear Luo Fei moving about, so he got out of bed and bathed and dressed in jeans and his new light blue shirt. He put on his old leather vest over it and liked the way it looked.
When he stepped out of the washroom, Luo Fei, sitting completely still at the desk and examining something through a magnifying glass, said without looking up, "There's food over there. Susu brought a tray up." He wore a grey shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a green vest, and brown trousers, and looked comfortable and immaculate at the same time.
Luo Fusheng went over to the tray sitting on the table between the leather chairs. All the bowls were covered. "You didn't eat any?"
"Not yet," said Luo Fei, setting down the magnifying glass. He came over and sat in the other chair and they ate together.
"So what's on today?" Luo Fusheng asked around a mouthful of rice.
Luo Fei swallowed before speaking. "Aside from visiting Xiaoman in the hospital, I don't have any plans. You'll come, too, won't you? She'll want to see you."
"Of course." Luo Fusheng nodded and shoveled in more rice. He was hungrier than usual this morning. When he finished, he lowered the bowl and tapped it with his chopsticks a few times. "I was thinking... I should find work. My shoulder's all right now. It twinges sometimes, but that's nothing fatal." He stopped tapping and looked over at Luo Fei. "What do you think I should do?"
Luo Fei's eyes shuttered slightly. "Why the sudden interest in finding work? Do you need money?"
"Doesn't everyone?" Luo Fusheng grinned. "Nah, it's not that. I... I don't want to be a bum around the place, that's all. A loafer. A sponge."
Luo Fei's face changed completely although he actually didn't change his expression. But the shutters lifted and he relaxed. "What does a former crime boss do?" he mused, rubbing his chin. "Aside from killing and beating up people, what other skills do you have?"
Luo Fusheng didn't take the bait, because he'd been asking himself the same thing all morning. "I can ride a motorcycle."
"That requires a motorcycle."
Luo Fusheng made a face. "I can also repair a motorcycle pretty well. Maybe just the basics, but..." He trailed off, seeing Luo Fei's unimpressed look. "I wasn't bad with the books at Mei Gao Mei. Sister Shuang took care of most of that, but I had to make sure everything looked good for Foster Father Hong." Luo Fei still looked unimpressed. "Organizing people?" Luo Fusheng offered weakly, thinking about getting all the guys together on the docks when there was going to be a turf war. "Aw, hell, what do you think I'm good at?"
He waited for Luo Fei's snide remarks about his criminal history or a comment about his talent for getting into fights. Luo Fei said quietly and sincerely, "Anything you put your mind to do." He gazed at Luo Fusheng and Luo Fusheng self-consciously rubbed his cheek. The cheek Luo Fei had kissed yesterday. Was it really only yesterday?
"But," Luo Fei continued, "until there's something you set your mind to, I was wondering if you wanted to work with us. Qin Xiaoman and myself."
Luo Fusheng sat back in the chair. "You want me to be a cop?" he laughed, incredulous.
Luo Fei narrowed his eyes. "No. Not a cop. An expert consultant. Your experience in the underworld would be invaluable to us. Has, in fact, already proven very useful. And if you think this work would be too boring for a man of action such as yourself, there would be an element of bodyguard involved. When required."
"Keep you and Qin Xiaoman safe..." Luo Fusheng said, thinking it over. "Of course I'd like to help you, but this doesn't sound like steady work."
"You consider your last profession 'steady work'?" Luo Fei asked with a slight smirk.
"Put that way, no. All right," Luo Fusheng smiled. "It sounds okay to me."
Luo Fei smiled at him, a brilliant, genuine, beautiful smile that made Luo Fusheng's heart ache.
"Very well. Let's go tell Xiaoman the good news."
After visiting the hospital, where Qin Xiaoman was a restless patient, eager to leave, they strolled through the city side by side. Luo Fei pointed out a few sites of interest: a bridge that had almost collapsed after being rigged with bombs, a cinema that had nearly burnt down when packed with people, a warren of shikumen where a disturbed woman had plotted her revenge murders, a noodle shop next to the house of a lawyer who'd killed for love. They ate at the noodle shop and resumed their leisurely walk.
"Is there anything you want to ask me?" Luo Fei said, breaking a long, comfortable silence. "I know you've been investigating me."
Luo Fusheng wondered who blabbed, Susu or Ben Jie Ming. He buried his hands in his trouser pockets and kicked a pebble out of the way.
"No. I think I know enough for now." He smiled to himself. "Don't wanna find out everything too fast, do I?"
"No fun in that," Luo Fei agreed.
They spent the afternoon on the roof, conducting experiments on different fabrics, testing one of Luo Fei's theories about the most effective way to muffle a gunshot. Luo Fei borrowed Qin Xiaoman's service pistol, but would not fire it himself. Luo Fusheng was happy to oblige. In the midst of the carnage of old blankets, cushions, suits, and cheongsams, Luo Fei paused and said, "But what would you have used?"
Luo Fusheng held a wad of rolled-up drapery in front of the pistol. "Me? I wouldn't have bothered. Any time I had to use a gun, everyone knew why and what was coming." He fired, Luo Fei wrote in his notebook, and they inspected the damage together.
"What's next?" Luo Fusheng asked, poking a finger through the bullet hole.
"That's it." Luo Fei snapped his notebook shut and sank down into the pile of mortally wounded fabric. Luo Fusheng sat down next to him. The air was still today, not too cold, not too sunny, but it was a peaceful day.
Luo Fusheng looked down at him lying against the drapery. "I think you're the most beautiful man I've ever met."
Luo Fei's eyebrow twitched. "Yes. You said that once before," he said slowly.
"I did?" Luo Fusheng frowned. "When?"
"It doesn't matter, if it's true," Luo Fei said, shifting his gaze to meet Luo Fusheng's.
"Oh. Well. It's true." Luo Fusheng swallowed. "I thought so the first time I ever saw you."
Luo Fei searched his face, almost smiling but not quite. "You're not a crime boss."
Luo Fusheng laughed softly, shaking his head. "Not anymore."
"No," Luo Fei countered. "I mean, you never were. I've known crime bosses. You're not like them. You're too good."
Luo Fusheng's cheeks flushed with warmth to hear this, but he said, "I've done horrible things, Luo Fei. If the label is accurate..."
"Doing horrible things doesn't make you a horrible person. If that were true, nearly every person on this earth would be a horrible person, myself included. All of us, at some point in our lives, have to do something we wish we didn't have to do, and usually it's a horrible thing. But we do it, and we keep living."
Luo Fusheng watched him for a moment. "I'd like to kiss you."
Luo Fei's lips curved in a half-smile. "I wondered if you would ask for permission."
Luo Fusheng lay down beside him. "Then permission is granted?"
Luo Fei licked his lips. "What do you think?"
That night when they retired to bed together, Luo Fei sat up, reading, and Luo Fusheng propped his head against the bedframe. He toyed with the piping on his pajamas.
"There's something... If I'm your expert consultant... If I'm working for you..." He sighed, not knowing the right way to say it. "I don't wanna take your money."
Luo Fei kept reading for a while, marked his spot, closed the book and set it aside, and took off his glasses. He tapped them against his chin.
"Technically, it would be the department's money, because they pay me to be their consultant, and you would be my consultant," Luo Fei said. "But I understand your point. Needless to say, I don't view you in the way you're alluding to. Your billable services, so to speak, would be strictly professional and related to your expertise in matters of crime and as a bodyguard. Anything -- and everything -- else would be 'off the clock,' as they say, and relate to our private life only. But," he sighed, "I suspect this won't assuage your uneasiness."
"You suspect correctly."
"I'll speak to Detective Superintendent Savoy about arranging a separate payment for you as my assistant." He paused. "He may want to meet you. Would that be uncomfortable for you?"
Luo Fusheng shrugged. "Not if he's not looking to lock me up."
"Good. I'll see him in the morning."
Luo Fei switched off the lamp and settled comfortably on his back. Luo Fusheng snuggled against him and Luo Fei touched his chin, bringing him to a slow, a very slow, an extremely slow, wonderful kiss. When the kiss ended, Luo Fusheng brushed his lips against Luo Fei's cheek and rubbed them against his beard.
"Can I call you 'Princess'?"
Luo Fusheng licked the line of Luo Fei's jaw. "How about 'Lao Fei'?"
"If you want."
Luo Fei's hand sank into Luo Fusheng's hair and Luo Fusheng kissed his neck.
"How about 'Boss'?"
"Mm." Luo Fei stretched languorously, holding him. "But won't that cause you uneasiness?"
"That depends on how you treat me. Boss," Luo Fusheng said as their lips met in another long, wonderful kiss.