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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Outcast: Volume 1 Chapter 5

Volume One: Eastwood Is All Stones

Chapter 5: A finger in the night wind

“Xu Le is willing to see you only because your mom raised him for two years after the mining accident. He is grateful…. But you must clearly understand that he is one who doesn’t like to cause trouble. Better let the words you hear rot inside your tummy.”
Having returned to the apartment building of the Bell-Tower Street, Li Wei shot a threatening stare at Little Qiang, still feeling a bit worried. The boy was, after all, just a ten-year-old kid. What if he spilled the words out inadvertently?
The little fellow showed a puckered mouth and was almost scared to tears by Li Wei’s stern stare. Li Wei’s eyes always appeared clear and adorable, but every orphan hanging around the Bell-Tower Street knew how cruel and merciless the sixteen-year-old chief could become.
The metal shaft was no longer in Li Wei’s hands. He had probably hidden it somewhere. His hands now held a beer bottle and continued pouring beer down his throat. He sat under the street light and hummed the tune of a folk song, looking quite content. The little fellow gave him a timid peek, and then hesitated for a while, but the question still burst out eventually.
“Brother Le rarely comes back to the Bell-Tower Street in the last two years. What on earth is he doing?”
“Who knows? The bloke always fancied craftsmanship since he was little. Who’d have thought he could be so brutal. Do you still remember that thing we saw that year?” Li Wei gulped down a mouthful of beer and gasped in admiration.
“I was only five back then. I don’t remember a thing now.”
The little fellow licked his lips as he cast a side glance at the beer bottle in Li Wei’s grip, looking quite curious. The lives of the orphans in the Eastwood Grand District were generally worriless, only that finding drinks that contained alcohol had always been difficult. And liquors in the black market were simply way too expensive.
“That’s right. I was only eleven, myself. Xu Le was only ten at that time.”
Li Wei threw the empty beer bottle onto the garbage pile under the street light not far from him and took a deep breath. His young and puerile face seemed to have been gradually taken over by traces of numbness.
“If that thing never happened ten years ago, we’d probably still be in school. We might even have earned our professional certificate and made it into the Riverwest University…heck…we might even go to the Capital Star as exchange students.”
The street light cast long shadows behind the two boys, one tall and one short, and the shadows draped over the garbage piles in a distance. A black cat quietly walked by in the dark shadows. No matter how wide his yellow pupils dilated, once again, he didn’t see any mouse. The entire surroundings were submerged in desolation and deathly stillness.
The mining accident ten years ago had buried underground over three hundred miners. What made it worse was when the collapse also reached the temporary residence complex. Many visiting relatives also became unfortunate victims and countless families were brutally broken apart.
The accident shocked the entire Federation. Such disastrous tragedy and large death toll in a society with super advanced technology resulted in the dismissal of many government officials. Top officials of the Department of Homeland Security and the Governor of the Riverwest State all resigned under the immense pressure of the news media. Three officials ended up with criminal charges. Even the Deputy Secretary in charge of safety and security of the Eastwood Grand District was sentenced to four years of jail time.
The aftermath reactions of the Federation government and the justice system were indeed swift and strict. But the perished lives were lost forever. The severe mining accident gave the final heavy blow to the mining industry of the Eastwood Grand District, which was already on the brink of crumple and was just hanging by a thread. The United Mining Corporation filed bankruptcy and was soon taken over by the Federation government.
This event had deep impacts on many future government policies, but few gave any thought to the fact that the deepest impacts were really about the lives of the many orphans.
The orphans who participated in the rally at the Bell-Tower Street during the day were all victims of this mining accident. Li Wei was one of them, so was the little fellow, and so was Xu Le.
Xu Le was one of the many orphans resulted from the mining accident. To be more precise, he was an oddball among the orphans. Over the years he never cast admiring glances at the swaggering gang leaders on the streets. His favorite activity was to sit in the grocery store by the street corner and watch others repair electronic appliances.
He didn’t look muscular, sinister, ruthless or callous. In fact his face always carried a slight smile, as though nothing could bother him no matter how difficult the situation was.
Strangely, none of the fight-eager orphans dared to provoke him. It almost seemed as if orphans of the three streets actually respected him. The respect was probably largely due to Li Wei’s sincere respect for him.
Five years ago, an incidental street cleanup operation by the government forced an underground mob into the backstreets and alleys of the orphan-occupied Bell-Tower Street. Coldblooded and vicious, they successfully took over control of this long-abandoned district. Within a mere two-hour period, three of the oldest and bravest orphans had been killed in the brutal clash.
The rampant and arrogant orphans during normal days were really only showing off lion cubs before they successfully evolve into sinister gangsters.
On that day, Xu Le, who never participated in regular orphan group activities, went missing. Then all of a sudden, the police force and reinforcement from the local military unit, who couldn’t penetrate the troubled lower district of the Riverwest State Capital City, were finally able to enter the large complex behind the Bell-Tower Street through an underground pipeline.
Many of the gang members were killed. The orphans returned to their old territory, very glad that the deaths of the three orphans were avenged. But no one knew that on that cold rainy night, the always dull but optimistic Xu Le had stabbed to death the escaped leader of the underground mob with a scrap elbow hydraulic pipe from a junk Mech just outside of the waste station.
Except for the shivering Li Wei and the little fellow hiding in the interlayer of the sheet rocks at the abandoned factory dining hall. That year Li Wei was eleven, the little fellow was five, and Xu Le had just turned ten.
“Four years ago?” Xu Le repeated the words of the middle-aged man in front of him, still hiding his face in the hood of his jacket, and then grinned.
He was now sure that the man was just trying to trick him instead of referring to that most terrifying memory deep inside his heart.
“I was taking a makeup entrance exam given by the State Education Office four years ago.”
Deputy Chief Bao fixed his eyes on the youngster with a chilling stare. He knew the lad must have had something to do with the fiasco in the afternoon, but he could not be sure. How on earth could a young lad get ahold of the internal itinerary of the police station? How the hell would he be able to understand the political conflicts and wrestling among the upper management?
“I need to know who is behind you.”
Bao Longtao thought that the chilling tone he used was just perfect and the question was also perfectly right to the point. Of course he had no doubt that orphans hanging around the Bell-Tower Street would have no problem recognizing him and the authority he represents.
When Xu Le heard the question, he couldn’t help but lower his head and squeeze out a bitter smile. He gave a shrug and then walked on toward the bright street light, ready to go home and sleep, as if he couldn’t see the middle-aged man in front of him who stared at him like a black dog.
Bao Longtao gave a firm grip to the police baton in his hand.
Young lad Xu Le suddenly raised a slim but steady finger.
Pointing toward the dark shadows behind the street light, he said, “There are a total of five security monitors over there. You only work for the police. You are not a judge, nor do you work for the Management Committee. You would have no way to erase the security video. So I would suggest you give up the idea of physical assault…whatever you want to know, why don’t you first obtain the necessary legal documents, and then I’d be very glad to cooperate with your investigation.”
A trace of disbelief flashed across Deputy Chief Bao’s eyes. He froze for a good while and finally spoke again.
“ID check. I’ll need to read your chip.”
Xu Le turned around, with the hood still over his head.
“Tomorrow, the Deputy Chief of the No. 2 Police Substation will be reprimanded by the Governor himself. He might even make the morning news on TV because of today’s rally. Who would ever believe that he would be so inclined to personally perform an ID check on a harmless feeble youngster so late at night?”
The finger that had been pointing at the security monitors in the dark shadows waved slowly as Xu Le spoke with a very sincere tone.
“I am a good person. Believe me. Everything I just said was for your own well being.”
Bao Longtao suddenly felt a chill. The unidentified young lad had spoken in such a calm and sincere manner. Suspicion brewed thicker and thicker in his chest and his grip onto the baton also became tighter and tighter.

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Gators attacked by cat - what I would call a stupid cat!