Chapter 2

The music was turned off, and only the fat man’s loud snoring echoed in the room. The changing pictures of MTV on the screen reflected a blurred image of A-Zhou’s face. Holding a cheap mobile phone, he typed a series of familiar numbers on the dialpad, but his fingers paused hesitantly over the call button. After a while, someone knocked on the door. He quickly put the phone in the pocket of his pants and stood up.

It was a room attendant who had come to pick up Fatty Zhang. A-Jie, who happened to take over, arrived too, so he returned to the staff dormitory.

It was called a dormitory, but in fact it was nothing more than a low building less than 500 meter away from Lihao. There were three high and low bunks in each small compartment, where six people lived together. Each floor had a communal bathroom at the end of the corridor. Because it was free of charge, it was always full. Young boys lived there, playing cards, smoking and yelling, shoes and socks lying around  in the crowded small room, and the air smelled of sweat even when the window was open.

At this moment, except for the two people who had night shift, the other three were already asleep, snoring slightly. A-Zhou walked in lightly and knocked down something in the dark that fell with a soft sound. He casually wiped his face with the towel hung on the side of his bed, and lay on it. After tossing around for a long time, he couldn’t fall asleep. He took out his phone and looked at the number for a long time. Finally, he pressed “Cancel” and put the phone aside.

It was useless. 

He was overwhelmed by surging powerlessness.

His mother, Jiahui, Minran… His heart was full of longing, but he didn’t even dare to contact them. He felt like a mouse hiding in a hole and lingering.

In the darkness of the night everything was quiet. He lay exhausted in bed. It seemed he hadn’t had a good sleep for a long time, living like a zombie, day after day. 

He dreamed of the past again. It was midsummer. The sky was blue, and the smell of grass and soil was fresh after the rain. The old man was taking a nap on the recliner under the eaves, and the big dog was lying down beside him obediently. His father and his three uncles were standing in the garden chatting. It seemed that someone told a joke and everyone laughed. While talking about domestic chores with his aunt, his mother stuffed a peeled apple in his hand. Jiahui, who was wearing a white dress and a small crown, walked up on tiptoes and covered his eyes with her chubby hands from behind, asking him to guess who it was. Minran, who was holding a slingshot, called his name and ran over, insisting on pulling him to play. And that person…

“Yichen, do you want an apple?” he heard his own young voice.

The good-looking, slightly immature face turned to him, his bright eyes full of smiles, gentle and soft like moonlight.

“Take half of it.” He handed the apple over.

Suddenly, the man’s brow furrowed, his expression turning from astonishment to coldness. Silent and motionless, those black eyes were as cold as ice, as if their sharp gaze could see through everything.

Unnoticed, the apple in his hand had turned into a cold and heavy gun. “No, that’s not right…” He wanted to throw it away terrified, but couldn’t get rid of it. He looked up in panic, and saw numerous black guns pointed at him.

His heart suddenly pounding, he woke up and sat up in bed, gasping for breath.

It turned out to be a dream.

Cold sweat had nearly soaked his clothes. Fear followed him from the nightmare to reality.

How long would it take? How long could he continue hiding? What would happen if he got caught?

He dared not think about it.

How had it come to this? He curled up on one side. The name tag with “A-Zhou” on his chest glowed with light green fluorescence in the dark.

He smiled bitterly. This name was really fitting. Now he was like a boat that had lost its way at sea and feared the horrible waves. It did not know how long it would take to find the way back, but it was full of longing for the distant safe harbor.

The old man was right. Sure enough, he was not that person’s opponent. He was no match for him since childhood. It was just because of his stupid dissatisfaction and arrogance that he tried to take his place. As a result, after only three months, he was in the desperate situation of being betrayed, and had to escape and become a humble waiter at Lihao.

This was arranged by Yang Lin for him. His father’s former subordinate was his last support, and had promised to secretly send him abroad. However, ten days had passed since the last contact, and the person Yang Lin sent to pick him up had not appeared yet. Every day was like a torture. He had nothing to do but wait. He felt that if this continued, he might go crazy.

After a night in a muddle, A-Zhou ordered a takeaway to fill up his stomach, and spent the whole day in the dormitory. At ten o’clock in the evening he started his shift. He had just arrived in the private room he was in charge of, when he heard Brother Ning calling him in the headset. 

Luo Ning was the head of personnel. He rarely smiled and managed Lihao’s employees very strictly. Many people got fired by him. A-Zhou thought yesterday’s incident with the fat man had been exposed, and started wondering how to deal with it, but instead he actually received a notice to move to an upper floor.

“Why?” he asked surprised.

“Someone on the tenth floor left, and now we are short of staff.”

“I mean…. ,why me? My performance is not particularly outstanding, and I heard that the waiters above the fifth floor must undergo professional training.”

“Follow Da Hua, he will take you there.”

“Can…”

“What? You don’t want to?” Luo Ning looked up at him. “Not many people decline a promotion.”

In addition to the same basic salary, Lihao’s waiters received a commission based on the amount of consumption in the private rooms. The third-floor room that A-Zhou was currently in was smaller and the prices were relatively low. He alone was responsible for four adjacent private rooms. The drinks consumption for all four rooms per night added up to a meager few thousand yuan. If transferred to the tenth floor, where two or three people were responsible for a luxurious private room, the consumption would be no less than tens of thousands a night, and the income would naturally double. The waiters stationed on the lower floors racked their brains trying to get to the top, and they all curried favor with Luo Ning. Xiao Ding had secretly sent a gift, but it was confiscated. It was a pity that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was no good to A-Zhou. He lowered his eyes and said, “I am timid, and I am afraid I might upset the guests by mistake.”

The corners of Luo Ning’s mouth twitched. “Really? I think people who dare to add to the guests’ consumption should have quite the courage.”

His heart skipped a beat and his complexion  paled. Sure enough, this matter couldn’t be concealed.

“When the customer is drunk and you add orders without permission, you will not only be expelled, but also pay for all orders. I can decide not to expose this, but it depends on your attitude. You should consider it carefully.” 

Now that they had reached this point, there was no way out. He pursed his lips and asked, “Which room on the tenth floor shall I be responsible for?”

“1003.”

“I’ll be on my way. Thank you, Brother Ning, for the promotion.”

The elevator stopped on the tenth floor and the door opened. The brightly lit corridor was covered with a golden silk carpet, and the blue cursors on the electronic wall surged like sea waves, showing the way to each room. Before the guests in room 1003 arrived, Da Hua, who was in charge of it together with him, took him around the room. Similar to the presidential suite, the private room had all necessary facilities. The small stage for entertainment purposes had a life performance area with a silver steel pole. The whole room had an open and clear structure, so that one could reach the large bed and the bathtub beside the window without any obstruction. The ambiguous luxury of the room made it convenient for the guests to enjoy a variety of interesting services…

“How about it? It’s better than the third floor, right?” Da Hua glanced at him. “Working on this floor is no better than working downstairs. You have to wink, move fast, and keep your mouth shut. Whatever happens in the room has nothing to do with us. Don’t make a fuss and don’t fool around, understand?”

“OK.” 

“The guest has made an appointment for eleven o’clock. You should prepare first. Cheer up and fix your hair. It looks messy.”

“Oh,” A-Zhou uttered in conformation, but remained motionless. When Da Hua went out to refill the fruit plate, he sat down in the middle of the circular sofa and looked at the empty stage with a self-deprecating smile on his lips.

He was no stranger to this place. For a while he loved hanging around in this place with his friends, drinking recklessly and embracing numerous women. Once, he drank too much alcohol and was sent to the hospital for emergency treatment. When he woke up, he saw Jiahui’s crying face. He had never been here since.

He didn’t want to make her cry.

But he knew that if he left without saying goodbye, she would definitely cry.

A-Zhou frowned a bit irritated, and when Da Hua came in, he immediately got up and pretended to wipe the clean coffee table.

“Someone is looking for you outside,” Da Hua said. “Resolve it quickly. It won’t be good if the guests arrive while you are at it.”

He agreed, and was not surprised to see Tang Shaocheng standing outside the door. He greeted him politely.

“I heard that you have been transferred here. I wanted to book this room, but unfortunately it was already reserved for tonight.”

“Okay.” 

“Then I can see you on this floor often in the future. That’s fine too.” The man smiled.

“The guests are coming soon,” A-Zhou said with the obvious meaning of seeing him out.

“Shall we go to Donghu for a tour tomorrow? Always staying in the dormitory is boring.”

Afraid he would be entangled in a conversation and attract attention, A-Zhou agreed reluctantly. Moving to this floor, it was very likely to encounter old acquaintances, so he had to be more careful. After Tang Shaochen left, he immediately returned to room 1003 and stood at the door with his head down, waiting to welcome the guests.

At around eleven, the buzzer vibrated, indicating that the guests had arrived. Scattered footsteps came from the elevator, getting closer and closer.

A-Zhou raised his head slightly and looked at the approaching person from under the burgundy bangs. Suddenly, he froze and stopped breathing.

Translator: Taalia

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