Proofreaders: Luzo, Mecca, Pau, & Red
The Rental Shop Owner ch 15
He had gone but perhaps not far. I flung the blanket away and sprinted out in slippers.
How could I have just fallen asleep? Fuck me. Why didn’t I strip him naked and tie him to the bed?
I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him again if I did not find him this time. He came back to see me for the last time. He rushed back before his injuries could heal because he couldn’t leave me hanging. He must have gone to do something big, or maybe he had already done it?
But judging from what he said yesterday, he probably hadn’t yet.
I ran outside as I tried to think with my half-awake head straight until the main road.
It was only six or seven in the morning. A few people saw me running around like a mad man in cotton pajamas in the middle of winter and began pointing and whispering—which psych ward is this guy from?
I don’t see him. Where did he go?
Shen Bin, you little shit. Damn you. I… I’ll fucking kill you.
Only after I crouched down did I notice how cold it was.
I went back to get dressed, went to the ATM to withdraw some cash and took a taxi heading to the train station. I had to find him. I asked the driver on the way how much it cost to go to Shanghai. The driver said twenty-five bucks but the price was double during the New Year’s season. Habitually, I drove a hard bargain and struck the deal at thirty-five. I wondered if that rascal also took a taxi to Shanghai and if he also haggled.
I called home saying I was going to stock up. “There’s a new release. Super hard to get. Uh-huh. Yeah. Only in Shanghai. I might not even get it today. Might come home the day after. I’m staying at my old classmate’s place. Hmm. Yeah, carpool. Yeah, saves me the money for the trip there.”
I hung up. I recalled what Binbin had said. He was younger but he considered more.
I had parents whom I constantly worried about and who lived because of me. He never thought about long-term for the two of us, so it was not surprising that he had been so brave and straightforward with his courting… I dozed off thinking about this.
I got off at the new bus station in Shanghai. His company and dorm were the only places to begin the search. A drowning man takes his chances with a straw. It was the same as it had been before New Year’s. The entire building where the company had been was closed. The dorm had new tenants.
I knew finding him was nearly impossible, but I had to do something.
How could I have let him leave me? How could I have lost him? My parents aside, he was the dearest person in my life. I had to wait. Even if he committed a crime, he might run back to me or get locked up again or…
I sat down at ‘Cockadoodle’ across from his dorm and ordered a half a kilo of white cut chicken. I ate and I ate. It never seemed to run out. Eating with him last last time in Shanghai seemed just like yesterday. He had even taken out his cell… His cell phone!
I called that number of his that had been out of service for a long time. I was clutching at that piece of straw.
It went through. My heart stopped beating.
A man picked up. His voice was hoarse and he asked me before I could say anything, “Lookin’ for Shen Bin?”
“Yes. And you are….”
“Wait in front of VM Security’s building.”
The call ended.
I was a bit stunned. Was it the gangs? All my knowledge on gangs was limited to movies. The most recent one was The Longest Nite: Tony Leung peeling nails off and chopping fingers… Brrr.
I waited for two hours in front of the building I had gone to at noon. No one came for me and it was so damn cold. I tried calling again—‘the number you have dialed is currently unavailable.’ I had to keep waiting though, so I bought some bread and hard-boiled eggs at the convenience store to fill my stomach. Dammit. I was only halfway through that chicken!
Another two hours passed. This place wasn’t a busy area and it was cold, so there weren’t many people out on the streets. I looked down at my watch. It was almost ten o’clock.
Are they blowing me off? Playing a joke on me?
My face had gone numb from the wind. Shuffling around did not help. I was just thinking about buying some more food when a small van pulled over. The door opened when it passed by. I was pulled in. The door closed. The car left.
It really was like a movie.
The A/C inside was very warm. It was probably remodeled. The front was separate from the back and there were two rows with three seats each row facing each other with a space in the middle. The one who pulled me in was a tall, lanky man. He pushed me down in a seat in the front row and sat down beside me.
A small light flicked on once I sat down and I saw there was a man sitting across from me. He didn’t look out of the ordinary: buzzcut, small eyes, tall nose, a bit of freckles on the face, a black tee inside a leather jacket, about thirty years of age. He didn’t have much of an expression though, so it looked like he was meditating or something.
“Who’re you?” He scrutinized me. It was the voice of the man who answered my call.
“I’m Qian. I’m Shen Bin’s friend.”
“The one who sell videos?” Still no expression.
“Not sell, rent…”
“You the one who got Bin-zi locked up?”
“No?” His small eyes jeered at me but his face still showed no emotions.
I didn’t continue.
“What do ya want Bin-zi for?”
I remembered what Binbin told me so I kept it to a minimum. “He came back to see me but then suddenly left so I came looking for him.”
“He went to see ya, you who made him go in the slammers, instead o’ choppin’ ya up?” The corners of his lips curved upward.
“I didn’t do it on purpose. We’re actually on pretty good terms.” My words trailed off weakly.
He didn’t look at me anymore and instead began to crack his knuckles—crack, snap, crack…
“Ya needa tell the truth.” He looked up again and gave me a scare. His eyes were pinned on me and I felt like I could not catch my breath. I was useless, wasn’t I?
Was this the big brother whom Binbin was grateful for?
I gulped and was about to–
“I wanna hear the truth,” he reminded me as he crossed his legs.
“Shen Bin came looking for me on the third day of the New Year, wounded and running a fever. He left before he got better so I came to check on him.”
He closed his eyes. I was just about to ask where Shen Bin was when the man beside me stuck something against my waist. I took a look and it was a gun—a gun!
“Better be honest with us, punk.”
“I am telling the truth.” My voice shook. I know, I was spineless but I couldn’t help it.
It was a gun after all.
The car came to an abrupt halt. I didn’t know where we were. What were they going to do? Silence me and throw me into the Huangpu River? What about Shen Bin? What about him?
“What do you guys want? I’m just looking for Shen Bin. I want to take him back.”
The man across me stood up. “He ain’t got parents, or kids or nobody. Where’s he gonna go?”
“He keeps getting hurt being a guard and he was just released. I didn’t want him to get locked up again for doing something bad, so I was going to find him a job. It-it’d be better than working out here.”
The man didn’t speak. I had no idea what he was thinking. The gun on my waist had not moved the whole time and my cotton shirt was sticking to my skin because of the cold sweat. I thought of my ma and pa. If I died, that would be three lives gone.
He still had a blank expression as he stared at me. “Shen Bin came to me today sayin’ that he doesn’t wanna roll with me no more.”
He doesn’t wanna roll no more? He came back because he didn’t want to keep doing this? Because of me?
The man gave the tall guy beside me a look. “Show ‘im what you got there on ya.”
The tall guy faltered for a second before taking something out from a bag and throwing it on the floor.
It was a finger. It was still bloody.
“Bin-zi chopped it off his right hand.” The man wiggled his index finger. “Without this he can’t shoot, useless. What the hell did ya do that he’d come back and do this to himself?”
The thing on the floor was his index finger.
He had asked me last night, ‘Ge, will you not like me if I take the bad path?’
I lunged for his finger. Perhaps it could still be reattached. He had it hard enough. He couldn’t become crippled on top of that. It was all my fault. It was all those assholes’ fault!
The tall guy yanked on my clothes to pull me up. I do not know where I got the energy from, I even forgot he had a gun, and kept thrashing around, waving my left hand at him and picking up the finger from the floor with my right.
It was kind of cold.
Pain shot through my scalp. The tall guy switched to yanking on my hair. He kneed me in the stomach and I felt as if my insides were being stirred around. I thought I was probably not going to make it out alive today. With his cold finger in my grasp, I suddenly had the thought when the pain was about to kill me, that maybe, perhaps Binbin wasn’t compliant so they… If not, where did they get the SIM card? Then I had called at the right time so now they were going to get rid of loose ends.
Had I put him in danger again?
Was he dead?
The doom overwhelmed me. I clawed at the man pulling on my hair and escaped his grasp. I headed for the culprit across from me. Yes. Him.
Before I took one step, something hit my mouth—the grip of the gun—and knocked out a tooth. I fell to the floor after another kick.
I spat the tooth out. It didn’t even hurt.
That’s right. Binbin, he… He had been killed by them.
He was dead.
Now they were going to kill me.
He was dead.
I fell into chaos. Something had snapped in my head. “You scumbags. He was a kid who never had a single good day in his life and you make him put his life on the lines for you. There is honour amongst thieves. Yeah right! Just a bunch of horseshit. You motherfuckers. You make him sell his life to you by doing him a few favours and then you kill him when he doesn’t want to keep working for you. You coldblooded bastards. You damn devils. I curse you, I curse your whole family, all to hell. You bastards. Motherfuckers. You all burn in hell. Fuck you…”
I don’t know what I said. I probably had never screamed so many profanities in my life. I don’t think they could hear me clearly either. I cried while I cursed them. I cried especially loud. I bawled my eyes out and my face was wet with tears and snot. I had never cried so much in my life either. I felt so bad that I wanted to tear my insides out. I had wanted to spoil him with my love for the rest of my life.
It’s all nothing—my ma and pa, the rental shops, the bad and the good—none of it matters, as long as you’re alive.
I held onto his finger.
I’ll do anything as long as you’re alive. I don’t need anything else.
As long as you’re alive.
No one gave a damn about me as I screamed and wept.
I was pulled up by the hair. The devil was crouching right in front of me, smiling.
“Why ya howling like that? Someone lost their mommy and daddy?”
You fucking son of a bitch.
I cried so much that I couldn’t think clearly and I swung my fist out. And I think I actually hit him since he covered his mouth. Alright. I got him.
Then, I got hit on the back of my head. My nose knocked onto the floor. There was something warm. It was bleeding.
“The fuck you howling for? The boss ain’t said Bin-zi is dead,” the tall guy spat.
“Get out first,” the devil demanded.
Not dead. He wasn’t dead.
I was stupefied.
I squeezed the finger that had become a bit warm. It was still reattachable. It was reattachable within twenty-four hours.
Wait a second. I remembered when Binbin licked his fingers when he was eating chicken, his fingers were long and slender. When I fucked him, I had held his hand under mine; it was longer than mine. But the finger in my hand now was short and fat. Also, there were thick calluses. Binbin didn’t have any. His fingers were smooth.
I threw the finger on the ground and yelled at the devil who sat back down. “This isn’t Binbin’s finger. What did you do to him?”
The man just laughed. His face was swollen from my punch and he was laughing.
“How can you tell?” he asked.
I slowly propped myself up. I was hurting all over. “What’s it to you? This isn’t his finger. Where is he?”
“You’re about to die and you still care about ‘im?”
He lit a cigarette out of nowhere, took one puff and passed it to me.
What the hell?
But I still took it from him and took a few puffs which calmed me down.
“You’re,” he paused and continued when he saw that I was looking at him, “Bin-zi’s boyfriend, ain’tcha?”
Boyfriend? Was it that obvious? I turned my head away.
“The fuck you being shy about?”
Would they use me to blackmail Shen Bin? “I’m his ge. What are you talking about?”
The man chortled as he lit another cigarette and sucked on it.
What was so funny? Maybe it was because I smoked his cigarette, but I kind of thought he might have not been so…
“And here I was thinking to myself.” He took another cigarette out, lit it and spat out a cloud of smoke.
“All these years I’ve been in the South, hmmph, I ain’t never seen a real man. Not one had guts. Shen Bin, though, he got guts.”
“My illness started actin’ up in the slammer and he saved me. I told ‘im I could bust ‘im out and in exchange, he’d work for me outside. He said no way. Then when I found out ‘bout his shit afterwards, I got someone to get rid of that piece of trash. He still didn’t wanna work for me though. Tsk, good for ‘im!”
Judging from his expression, he really thought highly of Binbin.
“But soon, outta nowhere, he told me he’d work for me and asked me to bust ‘im out ASAP. I guessed he wanted to take revenge on ya ‘cause you visited him that one time.”
“Boy, it took a long time. Took lotsa effort too, gettin’ him out. Had to set the place on fire and then put it out and send out bribes, the whole works. He went back home after he got out but I ain’t seen him take no revenge.”
I bit my lips.
The little brat. The little brat.
It was all for me.
“He’s helped me lots. Took a bullet for me just before New Year’s. Saved my ass again.”
He blew out lots of rings of smoke. The car wasn’t big to begin with and the air became foggy. He rolled down the window. It was pitch black outside but I could still see that we were definitely by the river.
After a while, he turned to look at me again, studying me. “What’s so good about ya? Is fuckin’ ya better than fuckin’ a bitch? What does he see in ya?”
His words made me feel uncomfortable. Dammit. What was the big deal?
“I owe ’im. He’s like a brother. I won’t let ’im follow me anymore.” He rolled the windows back up and came up to me. He grabbed my jaw roughly and stared into my eyes. “You needa stick with ’im from now on. Be good to ‘im. He ain’t got family. He only got himself.”
My eyes got wet. Maybe this man was actually real to him. His eyes were filled with sorrow when he said ‘he only got himself.’
I nodded furiously.
He had gotten off the car too and soon, he and the tall guy went back on. The tall guy even patted me on the head. “Sorry, Bin-zi’s loverboy.”
I got abandoned by the river.
I was aching all over and my consciousness was staticky like I was dreaming. They probably had originally planned to kill me.
I couldn’t stand up so I just stayed there for a while. Soon, he came.
He hoisted me up and began crying when he saw how messed up I was.
I realised we both were crybabies.
I grabbed his hand and studied it. There was a new wound on his right index finger.
“Brother said whoever didn’t wanna go with him can just pretend to not know him after New Year’s but he’d have to get rid of his trigger finger. I-I’d planned to… he’s a real man so I’d wanted to go but… And when I brought the knife down, he stopped me.”
I held him tight.
Everything you did was for me.
“What did you all do for him?”
He took a moment to gather his thoughts before telling his story.
That boss had wanted to go clean and run a security company but it was still borderline illegal. He had a wife in the Northeast but always kept it a secret because he didn’t want people to hurt her. Then, last August, his wife got murdered. He decided to go back north to avenge her.
“Yannoe, Sister was pregnant. They raped her before killin’ her and even took pictures. After they killed her, they ripped out the baby. Brother and Sister were really close.”
“Those people knew Brother would hunt them down so they hired a gunman to gun him down. That’s why I became his bodyguard.”
“Brother didn’t let me go with him and he kicked everyone close to him away. I just found a bunch of murderers and people with nothin’ left to lose to go up north with him.”
I didn’t tell him everything. I think the boss originally wanted him to go along. He didn’t have anything left to lose either, and he was fierce and willing to risk his life. The boss knew he was a loyal guy so he said that on purpose to let him walk right into the trap.
But the boss had a sorry life too, for sure.
He had let us go in the end. His eyes had some humanity left in it.
“Ge, he called sayin’ that he was sorry. He didn’t know you were my…”
“Boyfriend.” I finished his sentence. I felt absolutely wonderful seeing him blush. ‘Boyfriend,’ so what? No harm came to that title.
“Thank goodness I was your boyfriend. If not, they would’ve butchered me into pieces.”
He pursed his lips. “If he killed you, I’d fuck him over.”
Then it occurred to me that the boss probably let me go because he knew that Binbin would.
But I was really happy and the tiny bit of jealousy that I had towards the boss disappeared without a trace.
Heehee. The brat only liked me.
It’s ‘happy-happy’ from here on out. Teehee.
ayszhang: Phew! We've made it past the highest point of the rollercoaster. For those who didn't see the announcement on Cold Sands, I've finished with this story and will be starting to translate a story whose title I translated as Till Death Do Us Part.
Thank you Anon-san for making a beautiful cover for us! And thank you Dairytea for editing it <3 If you made a cover for us, feel free to send it to us. We will compile them for the PDF version.
The Rental Shop Owner - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.