“How unexpected, finally being able to see you again. You’ve grown so big now. I remember when Zhang Jun came to me to show off his little boy, you were only this tiny then, sleeping so peacefully in your arms. What were you then, not even one whole year old still I think. Boy, time really flies by at the blink of an eye. Chi, make yourself useful and bring us a cup of water, will you?”
Chi, his secretary, nodded and went out of Director Zhao’s office, closing the door behind her.
Zhao Gongming looked more jubilant than anything else, eyeing me up and down and around. He looked so happy to see me that I was beginning to feel awkward, like a little boy visiting a distant relative and not knowing what to say to them. By the look in his eyes, I might as well be his own long lost son by blood.
“Director Zhao, so you know my father too?”
“Stop with all this business of Director Zhao already. If you don’t mind, just Uncle Zhao would do. Come, and sit. Oh I know your father alright. Him and I, we go way back. We used to learn at the same school even! The two of us both graduated from the Capital Medical School. I’m a little older than your father though, by about six years. After graduating and coming back to Tong City, I became a doctor. But your father, no, his head was too good to waste on this doctor business. Instead, he went headfirst into commerce and began his own business. If only he didn’t offend those people, he’d still be... no, sorry, it has been all these years already. Never mind about that.”
“Offend? Who did he offend?” I asked, confused. As far as I had known, my parents passed away due to a drink and drive accident, running into someone else’s car. Was there something else to this story?
Everything about my parents had been passed on to me by my aunt. When they passed away, I was too young to understand anything, much less those thick convoluted documents that the court sent over.
But, other than my aunt, all of my other relatives said the same about them, and it would be impossible to think that my aunt would have staged this huge lie involving all of them just to deceive me.
Zhao Gongming knew that he made a slip, and asked me awkwardly, “Oh, so... you didn’t know?”
As a recon specialist, I learned a great deal while I served in the forces, about how to talk others into bringing up the information I wish to extract. If I really wanted, I could probably pry it out his mouth if I used it on him, but I didn’t want to do this to Uncle Zhao. These techniques, I learned them so I could deal with my enemies, but he was my father’s friend. And, planned or no, he did just helped Lin Fang and I. I respected him for that, so I refrained and simply asked plainly.
“Just what had happened back then?”
Zhou Gongming scratched his nose, “This... this was nothing. You know, when your business gets big enough, suddenly everyone else in the world all became your enemy. Your father’s business grew too large too quick in the Tong City, and attracted a lot of hatred all over the place. He did have a few notable enemies, but none of them had anything to do with your father’s death.”
I was no fool. And, Uncle Zhao made it so obvious that even fools could tell. He was pulling a blind over my eyes, and he didn’t even bother to be discreet about it. If they really had nothing to do with my father’s death, he would never have mentioned it.
For all these years, I never once doubted my parents’ cause of death. Because my aunt had drilled it into my head since I was young, that at the same time my parents killed themselves, they also killed my uncle, her husband, and that was why she had always hated me. Though everything else could be faked, that hatred in her eyes towards me wasn’t. If she hadn’t hated me so to that extreme extent, I didn’t believe that she would look at me with such hatred that looked as if she was always ready to strangle me to death should I ever give her the chance to try.
But at the same time, I could tell that Zhao Gongming really hadn’t intended to be frank with me about it. If I were to chase him up on it, he would probably gloss over it with a few empty words and formalities.
I could do nothing but take a long sigh, filled with regret. I couldn’t come up with any plans. Against those whom I hold dear, I couldn’t formulate any plans to manipulate them. “Uncle Zhao, you mentioned just a while ago that you wanted my help with something? If it’s anything I could help you with, I’d be glad to do so.”
Zhao Gongming also looked as if he was desperately thinking of something to say to change the subject. When I gave him a lead, he followed up on it immediately, “I hear from Han Kun that you were pretty well trained while you served in the forces. You must be pretty good at handling yourself right?”
“Passable I guess. In the forces, everyone of us were taught how to handle ourselves against assailants to a certain degree. Why do you ask, Uncle Zhao? You’re not thinking of hiring me to become your bodyguard, are you?” I replied, a little jokingly.
I responded absently, still thinking about my father. By now, I’ve came to the conclusion that his slip up just then couldn’t possibly have been a coincidence. He wouldn’t be Zhao Gongming if he was someone that would so easily make a slip of the tongue. That had definitely been intentional, but then again, Han Kun never once told me anything about it before.
I only meant it as a joke, but Zhao Gongming’s reply surprised me yet again. He sighed, “I have a son. His name is Zhao Zichen. He is a general surgeon, but in a short while he would be applying to specialize as a cardiology surgeon. With the coming and going of the tide, oldies like me are gradually being made to fade out of the scene to give way for the fearless youngs.”
“And you also think that this is a good thing right, Uncle Zhao? After all, I don’t think you’d be objecting to more leisure times and rest.”
Uncle Zhao laughed, full of mirth, “I’m not in any particular rush either way, but those underneath had began to grow restless. Every single one of them wished that I would step down, right now if they could have their way, so that they could have their own people sitting on the director’s chair. I more or less know of all the potential candidates already, but the right to make the final decision somehow finds itself ending up in my hands. Though I don’t particularly care for it, whether anyone else thinks the same as me isn’t something I can say for certain. For my whole life I’ve sought harmony, never intending to offend anyone else. But as fate would have it, it looks like this is one conflict that I cannot run away from.”
Now I finally understood what he meant, “Uncle Zhao, you wanted me to protect your safety?”
For people like Zhao Gongming, taking him down in open confrontation would be almost completely impossible. But if they were to resort to something more subtle and underhanded, it would be a completely different story altogether.
Zhao Gongming nodded heavily, “Something like that, but not me. I want you to protect my son Zichen. I know these people, I know that they know me, that if they dared to do something as foolish as to force me to a decision, I would simply resist them until the bitter end. But all except for one thing, and that is my Zichen. He is my only son. I don’t even want to imagine what it’d be like to lose him. Chao, I know very clearly that, you being who you are now with all that you possess, something like this is, frankly, unfitting would be an understatement. But on the other hand, after much thoughts, you are still the most suitable one, and the only one that I could ask this of. What I’m thinking is that, with Lin Fang’s father hospitalized as he is now, you’ll most likely frequent the hospital as well. It’ll only be a few more days, until a new director was appointed, and after that there should be no more troubles. I’ve thought of hiring professional bodyguards for Zichen, but unlike his old man he is stubborn to a fault, intentionally opposing just about every single one of my decisions, so I could only ask you for help. If you do this favor for me, if you should need your Uncle Zhao for anything else in the future, you had but to open your mouth to ask.”
This shouldn’t be much of a problem. Zhao Zichen and Lin Fang’s father would be in the same department. And with Lin Fang’s father’s operation coming so soon, she was bound to apply for leaves to come looking after her father. I’ll simply tag along then.
“Uncle Zhao, no need to be so formal, it’d be no trouble at all. And if I wasn’t wrong, among the candidates this time, one of them is also one of Chen Yuzhou’s relatives right? That’s why you said I would be helping myself as well if I help you.”
He grinned, “Good, a smart cookie you are. Yes, Chen Yuzhou’s uncle was one of the candidates, hi name is Chen Han. He is also the one that is most likely to threaten Zichen’s safety. The Chens are very deeply rooted here in the Tong City, and they were also arrogant and demanding like a tyrant. That’s what’s worrying me so much.”
“Well, with me around, you can rest easy Uncle Zhao. Friends of my enemies are my enemies, and enemies of my friends are still my enemies. Uncle Zhao, I’m worried that this Chen Han would conspire with someone else. Do you have any other enemies beside this Chen Han? If there is any, please tell me so I can prepare for it. As they say, preparing for what might be trumps regretting what might have been, any time and every time.”
“Enemies, you say. Well, there is one, but he has long since went somewhere far away already. That, and it had been such a long time ago.”
“What’s his name?” I asked, desperately holding on to my emotions so as to keep Uncle Zhao from noticing anything out of the ordinary, “So I can be more efficient in keeping Zichen safe.”
I could see it on his face that Zhao Gongming really didn’t want to utter his name. But hearing my words, he hesitated and debated internally for a while, “His name is Jiang Ming. The two of us never saw eye to eye ever since we were young, but he left Tong City many years ago already. You shouldn’t need to concern yourself with him too much.”