Chapter 59: A-Tao’s Memories
After A-Jiao left, A-Tao sat alone in his private dining room. He didn’t call the waiter over and ask for the check. He just sat there silently, staring blankly through the window at the night sky.
As he started to daydream, A-Tao felt as though he saw a muscular man, clearly out of breath, running at him from afar. The man staggered his steps, and his left hand was clutching his gut, where fresh blood continuously seeped through his fingers. In front of the man was an alley, dark as it could be in the dead of night. He continued running with all his strength. Behind him came the din of faraway voices, mixed with the blaring of police sirens.
The man looked at the alley; it was too narrow for an automobile to traverse. He glanced at the crowd of people chasing him before deciding to run headfirst into the alley. A gust of cold night wind swept past, chilling everyone caught in it to the bone, especially this man who had been wounded.
“Ah!” came the sudden scream of a woman in the alley. The man hadn’t paid any attention to the prostitutes in this alley, since he’d been concentrated only on staggering his way through. As a result, he’d accidentally bumped into the woman, who screamed in surprise, followed by a string of invectives. “Are you fucking blind? Can’t you see you where you’re going?”
“Ah… ugh…” the man painfully moaned. He didn’t have the strength to argue, as the previous bump hurt him a great deal more than it hurt the woman.
“You–” the woman exclaimed in surprise as she looked at his gut. “Is that blood?”
“Don’t… don’t scream!” the man quietly begged. “Sorry! I… I’ll be on my way…”
“Are you really that stupid?” The woman looked over the man as she heard a cacophony of voices descending on the alley. She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him inside one of the buildings. She then turned around and headed for the door, but not before telling him, “Don’t make a sound if you want to live!”
Right then, the figures who’d been chasing after the men approached her. “Police! Have you seen a man running past here?” one of them loudly asked.
“Oh! No…” The woman hesitated for a second when she heard they were police.
“Lying bitch!” the officer who asked the question yelled. “I saw him run in here!”
“Oh, right, yeah, I saw him! He… was covered in blood, and… ran that way…” answered the woman as she pretended to be scared out of her mind. She used her finger to point at the other end of the alley. “He… he went that way…”
“So, where’d he go?” asked another officer who had just arrived.
“Inspector Jiang, he ran in that direction!” the first officer said to the new arrival.
“Alright, let’s give chase!” the one called Inspector Jiang ordered. Very quickly, they ran to the other side of the alley and soon disappeared into the night.
When the woman saw that she had successfully misdirected the police, she returned to the building and helped the wounded man up on his feet. She helped him walk over into a neighboring room and said, “Keep quiet!”
The man nodded his head in agreement. His complexion had already turned pale white. When the woman saw that the man was following her directions, she went and got several articles of clothing and used them to tightly bind his wound. She then grabbed an old army coat and draped it over the man’s shoulders. After she finished with everything, she anxiously asked, “Can you walk? This place isn’t safe.”
“Yes!” the man answered through clenched teeth.
“Good!” said the woman as she helped him leave the room. The two of them maneuvered through an even narrower passageway in order to leave the alley. The woman then brought the man to her own house.
“Alright, you should be safe now,” said the woman as she removed the man’s makeshift bandages. “Ah! You’re still bleeding! What should we do?”
“Hehe, nothing,” said the man as he sat on the ground. “Thank you… thank you for helping me…”
“Hey, don’t die on me in my own house, okay?” the woman said in dissatisfaction as she pursed her lips. “You’re not a good guy, are you?” If it weren’t for the fact that that cop called me a bitch, I would’ve sold you out a long time ago.”
“You’re right…” the man answered with great difficulty. “I’m a bad guy!”
“Hey, stop talking,” ordered the woman as she anxiously looked at the man’s wound. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
“No! You… go find me a knife, and then put the knife in a flame until… the blade turns red hot…” the man said faintly. “I… I can do it… myself…”
“Fine.” Once the man finished talking, the woman stood up and left his side. While she was waiting for the blade to get hot, she went about her home to find some gauze and the herbal coagulant called Yunnan Baiyao.
“Thank you!” the man said gratefully as she saw everything the woman was doing for him. “I… I will find a way to repay you for your kindness.”
“Yeah, whatever. Just don’t tell the cops I helped you if you end up being caught!” the woman quipped sarcastically. “I’m going to get that knife now.”
When the woman returned, she held in her hands a red-hot knife and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. She placed these two items in front of the man and then turned around. She was afraid to witness what that man was about to do, since she knew what he had in mind.
The man looked at the woman’s backside and let out a somber laugh. He grabbed a woman’s slipper from a nearby shoe stand and shoved it in his mouth, biting down hard on it with his teeth. He then used the rubbing alcohol to disinfect the knife, before he used the blade to dig out the bullet that had been lodged in his gut. He then pressed the red-hot knife to his gut in order to cauterize the wound.
“Do you need another one? I have a backup kitchen knife that I can get for you,” the woman asked while still in a state of shock. She still had her back turned to the man, but she could tell from the hissing sound and the smell of burning flesh that the man had gone to work on himself.
“Yeah…” the man opened his mouth to say. The slipper fell out of his mouth as he leaned feebly against the wall, bean-sized beads of sweat dripping down from his forehead.
The woman quickly returned from the kitchen with another red-hot knife, which she once again placed in front of the man. She was still too afraid to look at his wound. The man looked at her expression and smiled wanly once again. He then went through the same motions one more time. He placed the slipper in his mouth, disinfected the knife with alcohol, and pressed the burning knife to his wound. Afterwards, he quickly fainted from the pain.
When the man woke up, he found that he was lying on the woman’s bed. He didn’t know how she’d been able to drag his heavy, muscular body onto the bed. He just knew that a topical antibiotic had been applied to his wound and that it had been tightly dressed with gauze. He tried moving his body when he saw a note on the nightstand, along with porridge, milk, and other liquid foods. There were even some drugs that the woman thought he needed.
“I’m going to work now. You stay put and don’t go anywhere!” A set of exquisitely beautiful handwriting loomed up at him, and he saw neatly inscribed at the bottom of the page the woman’s name. “A-Jiao…”
“Brother Tao! I’ve already sent Sister Jiao home,” A-Meng reported to a still daydreaming A-Tao as the former entered the private room and bowed.
“Oh, good!” A-Tao finally snapped out of his daydream as A-Meng called out to him. The man whom A-Jiao had rescued was none other than A-Tao, and the scene he had just recalled from his memory occurred almost exactly two years ago, in the alley and in A-Jiao’s home.
After the fact, A-Tao had asked A-Jiao why she decided to take the risk of saving his life. A-Jiao always replied with a sly smile. At first, she’d say it was because he didn’t look like a bad guy. Then she’d started saying it was because the cop had called her a bitch. In any case, she was sure A-Tao wasn’t a bad guy. Plus, it wasn’t like she was a good guy in the eyes of the police either. So it was only proper for one bad guy to save another.
After he recovered from his wounds, A-Tao shaved what remained of his thinning hair. He then went to another city to undergo minor facial plastic surgery before returning here. The formerly terrifying Bald Wolf, aka Xue Guangliang, had disappeared from this city, from this world even. In his place arose an uncivilized, but otherwise ordinary, man named Han Tao.
Of course, A-Jiao knew the secret that A-Tao was in fact Xue “The Bald Wolf” Guangliang, but time had washed away many of her memories about A-Tao’s past. She didn’t remember that five years ago, A-Tao had killed the wife and child of a police officer he didn’t even know. And like A-Jiao, A-Meng also knew about A-Tao’s past. After all, the two of them had been comrades while in the special forces. However, knowledge of A-Tao’s past didn’t prevent A-Meng from joining his side. Unless forced to by uncontrollable circumstances, a person will usually not deviate from their chosen path. Perhaps A-Meng and A-Tao shared bitter experiences to which only those two were privy.
“It’s time to go,” said A-Tao as he stood up out of his chair. A-Meng quickly followed, and the two of them left the private room together and headed to the front counter.