“… " Jiang Ting took a silent breath and asked, “What’s the matter?”

Unexpectedly, Qin Chuan just smiled without saying a word and then threw the phone over. Jiang Ting caught it, and the screen displayed an ongoing call. It was the Black Spade K on the other end!

“… Hello?”

“Have you arrived at Yunzhong Village?” Wen Shao’s voice was as gentle as always. “Feeling cold?”

Black Spade K, as long as an ordinary person with some sanity left, would not be able to discern any genuine emotions from his expression or tone—because he didn’t possess such a thing. He could be talking happily one second and then pull out a gun and pull the trigger the next, without any transition, not even the slightest hint.

“I’m fine. Not cold,” Jiang Ting replied.

“Are you tired?”

“Not really.”

Wen Shao said, “Then come up.”

Jiang Ting’s heart jolted. “What?”

“I miss you.” There was a pause on the other end of the call, followed by a playful tone. “I want to show you something.”

The cold sweat that had formed on his back seemed to dissipate, but then it turned into a bone-chilling chill that was even harder to put into words.

Jiang Ting’s gaze flickered slightly, then he made a sound of agreement and fell silent. He handed the phone back to Qin Chuan, and no one knew how much effort it took for him to maintain his calm and composed tone:

“The boss wants me to go to the transaction site with you.”

Qin Chuan didn’t mind. “Come up.”

· The Hummer climbed over a series of half-meter-high mounds, causing the engine hood to constantly tremble from the jolts. Outside the car window, the sky was getting darker, and rugged rocks whizzed by on both sides of the window. Besides the sound of the engine, the cabin was silent.

The driver was a trusted confidant appointed by A Jie, clearly well-trained. Apart from occasionally confirming the route with Qin Chuan, he never uttered a word. Qin Chuan in the front passenger seat crossed his arms and stared straight ahead, maintaining the same posture without any change throughout the journey. There was absolutely no movement or reaction that could be discerned from his unmoving facial contours.

Jiang Ting sat on the back seat like a statue. In the dim light, only one side of his pale cheek was visible, guarded by vigilant bodyguards on either side.

No one noticed his gaze subtly shifting downward, falling on the wristwatch of the bodyguard on the right—It had been nearly an hour since he sent the route map to the command center. Had the police successfully surrounded the transaction site? Was Yan Yan, who had set off for Yunzhong Village and was tailing them, still behind?

“Don’t move,” suddenly the bodyguard on his right spoke to stop him.

Jiang Ting’s raised hand froze in mid-air, and he calmly said, “I just wanted to get that bottle of water.”

The bodyguard took out the mineral water bottle from behind the passenger seat, unscrewed the cap, and handed it to Jiang Ting’s mouth.

“…”

The air became still. In the rearview mirror, Qin Chuan’s eyelid suddenly lifted.

—Jiang Ting finally spoke in this tense gaze, and then the bottle was fed a few sips of water. He shook his head, indicating that it was enough.

Only then did the bodyguard release his hand, screw the cap back on, and put it back in its place.

Jiang Ting placed both hands on his thighs under the intense scrutiny of the bodyguard, never raising them again, not even moving his fingers the slightest bit.

In the rearview mirror, Qin Chuan withdrew his gaze.

On both sides of the dirt road were the same monotonous mountains and forests. The silence and intense jolting made this stretch of road seem endlessly long. It was unknown how much time had passed when suddenly, the car made a loud “bang!” and came to a halt.

Qin Chuan was the first to open the car door and jump out. He vigorously stretched his shoulders and loudly announced, “Hey! We’ve arrived!”

Beep, beep, beep—the car horns sounded a few times, and Wang Pengfei’s convoy of extended off-road vehicles followed and parked not far away.

Jiang Ting was helped out of the car by the bodyguard, and when he looked up, he saw that they had stopped halfway up the mountain. Behind the dense thicket ahead, scattered lights could be seen from a row of temporary factory buildings that were constructed along the mountain road!

“Oh, this setup.” Wang Pengfei brightened up, his face filled with eagerness as he approached and reached out to shake hands. But Black Spade K seemed to have not noticed his enthusiasm, disregarded the hand that was adorned with numerous jade rings hanging in the air, and casually nodded as if acknowledging the greeting. Then, he turned and walked directly towards Jiang Ting, smiling and saying, “You finally came.”

Jiang Ting didn’t answer and glanced at the two burly bodyguards on either side. He straightforwardly asked, “What does this mean?”

“What do you mean?” Wen Shao replied.

Jiang Ting didn’t beat around the bush like him, “Did you give a strict order not to allow my hands to move more than ten centimeters up or down?”

Wen Shao’s expression remained unchanged, “Where did that come from? They misunderstood it.” Then he waved his hand to dismiss the bodyguards and immediately hooked his arm around Jiang Ting’s shoulder, seeming to have a good relationship with him, and led him up the hill.

Wang Pengfei hurriedly followed behind, “Hey, I’m talking about that batch of ‘Blue Gold’—”

Wen Shao didn’t even turn his head.

Wang Pengfei didn’t mind and gasped as he trailed behind, “We’ve prepared offshore accounts as you instructed. Once the goods are inspected here, we can transfer the payment immediately! The price and discounts we previously agreed on don’t need to be given anymore. Otherwise, I can add this amount for you—how about it?”

Struggling, Wang Pengfei supported himself with one hand on the ground and opened his short and thick fingers, gesturing a number.

“Oh?” Wen Shao smiled, “Why?”

“Hey! The business is getting bigger and bigger, and we can’t meet the demand just by purchasing. This factory area seems good. Since you don’t plan to continue the production line in the southwestern region, why not give me this mountain as a favor after the transaction is completed? What do you think?”

Wen Shao neither agreed nor disagreed, pointing to the lush mountains ahead, “This mountain?”

Wang Pengfei vigorously nodded.

“Sure.”

Wang Pengfei never expected Black Spade K to agree so casually, and he was delighted.

However, before he could express his joy, Black Spade K chuckled and asked, “But doesn’t the constitution stipulate the integrity and indivisibility of the country’s territory? This mountainous area in front of your eyes belongs to the People’s Republic of China, not me. How can I give it to you?”

Wang Pengfei: “…”

The expressions of everyone under Wang’s command were extremely colorful. If it weren’t for Lao Cai pushing him from behind, Wang Pengfei would have stumbled down the hill.

Wen Shao smiled and looked at Jiang Ting, his eyes sparkling.

With one arm tightly hooked around Jiang Ting’s side, just like before, as if countless people were watching every move, but he didn’t seem to mind this silent restraint. He smiled at Wen Shao and said, “What do you want to show me?”

“Why the rush?” Wen Shao asked instead of answering.

Jiang Ting said, “No rush.”

Wen Shao raised his chin forward, “Then haven’t you already seen it?”

By this time, they had climbed the steep slope, and ahead was a spacious open area halfway up the mountain. The temporary factory site was within sight.

In the deep mountains, it was obviously impossible to construct buildings with bricks and concrete. The warehouses were built with high-strength aluminum alloy frames and reinforced PVC canvas. Although they were still somewhat rough, compared to the crude drug labs hidden in the mountains, they were already a model of stability, safety, and secure production. Especially the dark green canvas outer layer and the foundation tracks blended into the lush surroundings. Even with aerial photography, it would be difficult to detect any trace.

“Did you see it?”

No one knew what medicine he was selling in the gourd. Jiang Ting hesitated and nodded.

“Yes, that’s it.” Wen Shao smiled and waved his hand, “Qin Chuan.”

Qin Chuan walked over, and they heard him give instructions, “Ah Jie is waiting for you inside. You and Mr. Wang go in first to inspect the samples. We’ll talk about the bulk goods when I come back.”

Wang Pengfei immediately forgot the mockery he had just received, “Hey, where are you going?”

Wen Shao patted Jiang Ting’s shoulder and casually said, “I haven’t seen my brother for a long time. I’ll have a smoke and chat with him.” Then, he ordered Qin Chuan with a wave of his hand right in front of everyone, hooked his arm around Jiang Ting, and turned around to leave.

“… " Wang Pengfei stared blankly at his carefree figure, feeling that this legendary drug lord was unpredictable and completely incomprehensible, like someone with an abnormal mind. But for people in their line of work, as second-rate dealers without production capabilities, as long as the goods were in Black Spade K’s hands, even if he was truly crazy, there was nothing they could do. He could only grumble resentfully, “Hey—?!”

Qin Chuan was already used to it. He unlocked the warehouse door with a key and smiled, “Please, Mr. Wang.”

· In the distance, Wang Pengfei and his group followed Qin Chuan into the warehouse one after another, and then they vaguely saw the warehouse door being closed. At the same time, two closely-knit figures walked in another direction and gradually disappeared from the telescope’s view.

“Command vehicle, this is Observation Point A-26. The buyer has entered the transaction site, but the main target has left the observation range with the ’nail.’ Currently, we cannot determine their intentions. What should we do?” whispered the SWAT team member extremely softly into his earpiece from a hundred meters away in the treetops.

Inside the command vehicle, leaders at various levels, from the provincial to the county level, simultaneously looked up. Outside the vehicle, the engine turned off. A camouflage forest police car, hastily rushing from Yunzhong Village, hadn’t even come to a stop when Yan Yin, holding a walkie-talkie, jumped out and hurriedly entered the command vehicle, only to meet the furrowed brow of Director Lv. “What happened…?” Vice Director Wei immediately made a hushing gesture, interrupting Yan Yin’s unfinished question. … Director Lv contemplated for two seconds in the eerie tense atmosphere and decisively said, “Maintain observation, do not take action.” “Yes!” Director Lv put down his earpiece and finally had the chance to turn to Yan Yin, “I was just looking for you. What exactly is the situation? Why didn’t Captain Jiang stay in the village and come to the transaction site with Wang Pengfei’s group?”

“I don’t know.”

Everyone was taken aback, but they saw Yan Yin strangely composed.

“…You don’t know?” Director Lv repeated in surprise and reached out his hand, “Give me the communication channel with Captain Jiang, let me listen.”

· Jiang Ting took the cigarette, took a few puffs, threw it on the ground and stomped it out. His footsteps on the decaying layer of fallen leaves made a faint rustling sound.

“You keep teasing me with one suspense after another. I can’t guess anymore. Do you really want to do business with Wang Pengfei?” Jiang Ting pressed down the hand on his shoulder from Wen Shao, trying to move it away. “There’s no one here, stop pretending to be brothers.”

Unexpectedly, Wen Shao not only didn’t let go, but hugged him even tighter. “Jiang Ting.”

“…”

“If those things didn’t happen three years ago, what would our relationship be like today?”

Their heads were almost touching, walking side by side through the blue-gray forest under the sky. The edge of the steep slope in front suddenly sank, forming a sharp gap that connected to the vegetated valley behind the mountain.

They were already a considerable distance from the factory buildings, but not far from the hill they had just climbed, and they could vaguely see Wang Pengfei’s group parked in a convoy on the slope below.

Wen Shao stopped, looking closely at him.

“…There wouldn’t be much of a difference,” Jiang Ting’s response was calm, then he asked, “Didn’t we agree not to mention what happened three years ago?”

As if he hadn’t heard, Wen Shao continued, “Then, if more than twenty years ago, when we both fell into the valley, I let you grab the lifeline first?”

They locked eyes, very close to each other, bringing forth buried memories that had long been hidden, spreading them out in broad daylight, where no details could be concealed.

But at this moment, no one could see the surging undercurrent beneath the surface.

The morning star of midsummer evening, the vast sea of city lights in the distance, gradually appeared from the horizon like a mirage, passing through the rice fields, carried by the evening breeze, and swept over them all at once.

“I don’t know, Wen Shao.” After a long time, Jiang Ting replied hoarsely, “Maybe it would be different, but that was a long time ago… It doesn’t have any meaning to bring it up again, does it?”

Wen Shao looked at him for a long time, finally retracting the hand that had been firmly holding Jiang Ting’s shoulder and letting his hands hang in front of him, overlapping each other.

Looking at his hands alone, it was hard to imagine that he was a drug dealer. The slender fingers, calloused from holding a bow, and the restrained demeanor throughout his body made him seem more like a musician—an enigma that had puzzled Jiang Ting.

Why could he be like this?

The pencil stabbed into the throat by the village doctor, the twisted and charred body of the Burmese monk after being burned, the desolation and despair of one AIDS village after another along the border… the stench produced by countless decaying corpses, the sins accumulated from countless grievances, seemed to have no effect on the mastermind behind it all.

Could it be true, as the old saying goes, that ordinary people with great sins tend to live long lives?

The so-called principles and justice upheld by countless people seemed utterly ridiculous.

“Don’t move,” suddenly Wen Shao gently ordered, and Jiang Ting’s hand froze in place. “Let me have a good look at you.”

Jiang Ting’s pupils trembled, but it was hard to notice. His right hand dropped down.

“When the time passes and youth fades away, when I have nothing and am covered in scars… Will you still love me until the end of time?”

At first, Jiang Ting thought Wen Shao was asking him, but then he realized that the leisurely and contented tone was actually Wen Shao talking to himself.

“Oh, I wasn’t asking you, I was asking myself.” Wen Shao seemed to see through what Jiang Ting was thinking and smiled, “In the three years you were unconscious, I often had this question, especially when I stood by your bedside late at night, gazing at you.”

Fortunately, it was Jiang Ting. If it were someone else, they might have already been terrified to the point of being unable to stand:

“What’s the answer?”

“No answer. Because I can’t imagine it,” Wen Shao suddenly changed the direction of the conversation and smiled, “Do you know what your most vivid image is in my memories?”

“…”

“It was the year when I had just developed a new fentanyl compound formula in the United States and was preparing to bring it back to China and Myanmar. One day, when I was extremely bored, I asked someone to send me a photo of you. It was a candid shot of you walking out of the Gongzhou City Bureau. One hand held your police uniform jacket, the cuffs of your shirt rolled up on your arm, and you carried your rank on your shoulder. You strode down the steps of the detachment building, your entire posture exceptionally sharp and efficient, as if nothing could hinder you from taking a momentary pause or turning back.”

“I don’t know what it was that made that photo remain in my memory until now. Later, no matter what happened, no matter how many people you killed, I couldn’t erase the image of Captain Jiang in my perception.”

Wen Shao slightly squinted his eyes, as if savoring something.

However, Jiang Ting’s gaze passed beyond him, looking towards the slope in the distance, and his expression suddenly changed.

“So, I can’t find the answer to this question from the depths of my heart, because I can’t imagine you without youth and brilliance… As long as you exist here, for me,” Wen Shao slowly stepped back half a step, “you will forever be the police officer who wanted to arrest me.”

—With this movement of his stepping back, the scene below the slope was fully revealed.

A Jie, with a few subordinates, was crossing the open space and approaching Wang Pengfei’s group of vehicles. The two lookouts remaining in the cars saw that something was wrong and rushed down, but before they could loudly inquire or signal a warning, A Jie shot and killed them one by one.

Then his subordinates dragged the bodies away, forcibly pried open the fuel tank caps, and inserted several long tubes into the tanks of each vehicle—it was a fuel pump!

“They won’t be needing this anymore,” Wen Shao said effortlessly.

In an instant, Jiang Ting’s mind became clear. Instinctively, he raised his hand, as if he was going to touch his right ear—immediately, his wrist was grabbed, and Wen Shao asked, “What? Are you trying to send a signal to the police?”

Jiang Ting swiftly turned around and kicked, while Wen Shao “slap!” grabbed hold of his ankle. The next moment, a fierce gust of wind hit Jiang Ting’s face, and he used the force to leap into the air. Wen Shao leaned his upper body back, narrowly avoiding the fierce and accurate strike!

The sudden turn of events had no warning at all. Jiang Ting cursed silently as he landed, and then a powerful force struck from behind with a loud bang. Wen Shao pressed his back heavily against the tree trunk, snapped his elbow back, and leaned close to Jiang Ting’s face, whispering, “I wanted to take it off with my own hands, but I didn’t want to handcuff you all the way here in front of them, so I had to keep someone watching you closely and not give you a chance to move it…”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Jiang Ting cursed fiercely.

Wen Shao was slightly surprised and then chuckled, “You really don’t shed a tear until you see the coffin. Fine, let me say hello to Commander Yan.”

With that, he maintained this dominating posture, one hand wrenching Jiang Ting’s elbow like a pair of pliers, and the other hand reaching towards his right ear—

On the inner side of the earlobe, that was exactly where the button communicator was attached!