Chen Yunzhi let out a deep sigh and wiped the sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief. He nodded to Tang Tian. “You did well.”
Chen Peng, still shaken from the earlier events, retorted, “Dad! You’re being deceived by her! All of this—” He lifted a shaky finger toward the forest and swept it around until it pointed at the swaddled body on the stretcher, hollering, “She planned it all! For sure! She knows these body fishers, and colluded with them to scam money out of us. All these superstitions are ridiculous! I refuse to believe ghosts exist!”
“Don’t be so hasty, Chen Peng!” Chen Yunzhi berated, his voice stern and harsh. “I can distinguish the truth from the lies with my own two eyes.”
The middle-aged woman next to Chen Peng tugged on his sleeve, and despite some obvious reluctance, he stopped talking.
Tang Tian crossed her arms and addressed Chen Peng sarcastically. “We’ll see, are you truly an ardent believer of materialism1This refers to the belief that what cannot be perceived does not exist., or just too much of a coward to acknowledge the fact that ghosts do linger among us? I’m sure there’s no harm in believing in ghosts, anyway. As the saying goes, ‘those who have committed no bad deeds need not fear the dead knocking at their door’. Since you seem so terrified of them, could it be that you feel guilty for something you’ve done?”
“Nonsense!” Chen Peng glared at Tang Tian, his hand trembling with overwhelming anger as he pointed at Tang Tian. “If you weren’t a woman, I’d beat you to death!”
His mother glowered at Tang Tian as well, her gaze threatening, but Tang Tian merely shrugged. “Let’s not get overly excited, shall we? I’d prefer we stick to talking, civilly.”
Chen Yunzhi shot Chen Peng a grim look. “We’re leaving now. Stop embarrassing ourselves here.”
There was a van, which the Chen family had hired from the funeral home, waiting for them at the village. Wang Laowu and Shitou dutifully hoisted the body onto it without asking for further money. Instantly, the cramped space within the van was filled with the stench from the corpse, forcing the driver, who was on the verge of vomiting, to wind down the side windows.
Wang Laowu, his duties discharged, went to seek payment from Secretary Chen, who took out several thick stacks of cash from his briefcase and thrust them at the old man. Wang Laowu swiftly licked his finger to count the bills, double-checking that he had gotten his due. Once he was satisfied, he stuffed everything into his pockets and briskly waved the secretary away.
Raising his voice so everyone could hear him, the old body fisher said, “The deal is done. Safe trip home, you people.” After a pause, he suddenly added, “Word of advice, out of the goodness of my heart: make sure you take a bath, and use calamus leaves when you bathe to get rid of bad luck.”
Chen Yunzhi and his family stepped into the car without paying him any mind. Only Tang Tian nodded at Wang Laowu, who stood by the roadside as the car engine throttled to life, his wrinkle-covered face visible in the rear-view mirror.
For no reason, the old man suddenly flashed a malicious grin, exposing his tobacco-stained teeth, and said in a mysterious tone, “You were all very lucky today.”
Secretary Chen shuddered and instinctively stepped on the accelerator. The Chens’ car sped away into the distance, followed by the funeral home van.
After navigating the winding mountain roads, they reached the foot of the mountain and found a guesthouse to rest for the night, while the funeral home van raced back to Fen City through the night to bring Chen Xu’s body back in time for the burial ceremony the following day.
The next day, the Chen family and Tang Tian returned to Fen City to attend Chen Xu’s funeral. The ceremony was brief, as they wished to let him rest in peace by burying the body as soon as possible. The funeral parade, with people hoisting large papercraft houses and troves of ingots, like those Tang Tian had seen in her dream, headed toward the hill behind the Chen family estate, where Chen Xu’s empty grave had been re-opened and the empty coffin with his belongings brought back out.
With Chen Yunzhi’s permission, Tang Tian wore a white funeral garment with a band of black silk wrapped around one arm, an outfit signifying that the wearer was a family member of the deceased.
She also walked behind the funeral parade with the other members of the Chen family. Chen Peng and Lin Luoyan shuffled forward with bored, exhausted expressions, whereas Chen Yunzhi seemed as grim as usual, looking around to ensure nothing went wrong with the funeral.
After the empty coffin was opened, Tang Tian noticed a laptop and a set of men’s clothes placed neatly inside. These were initially to be buried as substitutes for Chen Xu’s body, but were no longer necessary, now that his body had been found.
She reached out to pick up the laptop. When she asked for Chen Yunzhi’s consent to take it, he merely gave her a cursory glance, then nodded. Quickly glancing at Chen Peng and Lin Luoyan out of the corner of her eye, Tang Tian found them reacting nonchalantly to her taking of the laptop. Chen Peng even turned to smirk at her provocatively.
That was how Tang Tian knew, even if there had been any incriminating clues on Chen Xu’s laptop, they would certainly have gotten rid of them, somehow. Modern technology aside, she could still count on Chen Xu’s ghost to help her.
After the funeral, Tang Tian brought the laptop back to her room in the Chen family estate. Fortunately, there was still a little energy left in the battery to turn it on, even though she did not have the charger.
At the push of a button, the screen brightened, showing the default Windows 8 interface, unprotected by any password lock screen, which strengthened her suspicions that someone had indeed tampered with Chen Xu’s laptop. Although she had not personally met him, she didn’t believe that Chen Xu, a man who had studied overseas and successfully brought a company on the verge of bankruptcy back to its former glory, would choose not to secure his personal laptop with even so much as a password.
After browsing for a while, Tang Tian failed to find anything useful. She pondered for a moment before taking out the black phone. A notification glowed on the front screen, displaying the progress of her mission.
【Current Mission: Investigate the Truth of Chen Xu’s Death (50% complete)
Gentle Reminder: You still have 384 hours 59 minutes 24 seconds left to live. Insufficient HP. Please top up in time.】
Not that I don’t want to, Tang Tian thought sarcastically.
Muttering to herself, she said, “Now that the body has been found, the key to learning the truth is to find evidence, if there is any left…”
Tang Tian gently rapped her knuckles on the table and called out, “Chen Xu, are you there? Are there any clues left in your laptop?” Some time passed, but when she received no sign, Tang Tian left to take a shower. Later, when she returned to her room, drying her hair with a towel, she noticed an open TXT file on the laptop screen.
I knew he had something up his sleeve.
- 1This refers to the belief that what cannot be perceived does not exist.