Chapter 110: The Death of A-Tao
A-Tao brushed aside A-Jiao’s hair and stared at the female officer standing next to Jiang Zhengkai. “Na? Is that you? You’re all grown up now…”
“Yes, it’s me, Brother Liang!” Xue Na took one more step forward as she answered, “Brother Liang, give yourself up, please! Stop going down the wrong path before it’s too late!”
“Hehe, the wrong path?” A-Tao sneered. “Can you tell me what’s wrong and what’s right? Were those people who killed your grandfather and grandmother in the right? Was everything your father and I did wrong?”
“Brother Liang…” Xue Na found herself at a loss for words when she tried to answer. He was right. Her grandparents had been Xue Wanchun’s father and mother; what had they ever done wrong? They’d just been a pair of honest old peasants. However, in the early days of China’s economic reforms, the country had needed their land for a major infrastructure project. They were supposed to have been compensated, but the corrupt officials in the village embezzled the money that was meant to be theirs. When they tried going to the provincial capital to petition their case, they were beaten to death by unknown assailants on the way to the capital. What was their crime? All they’d wanted was the little compensation that had been promised them.
Because of this, Xue Wanchun had been granted leave from the military to arrange for his parents’ funeral. Back then, Xue Wanchun was in the prime of his life. After his parents’ burial, he went to seek redress from the village leadership. What he got was a beatdown from thugs hired by the corrupt village chief. Of course, normally these local thugs would’ve been no match for the People’s Liberation Army’s top special forces instructor, but Xue Wanchun restrained himself and did not strike back. The Xue Wanchun of old still believed in the system, believed that the government would grant him justice. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as he had hoped. Instead of being punished, the thugs who beat him were recruited into the local police force. Meanwhile, all Xue Wanchun got for his troubles was a forced discharge from the army.
After that, Xue Wanchun changed. He came to believe that only money and power could solve his problems. To him, the law became nothing more than empty words written on a piece of paper. Perhaps his transformation had been a product of the times. Even sadder was the fact that all of his comrades and students chose the same path he had. One by one, they became soldiers not for the country, but for Xue Wanchun’s growing criminal empire. As the most “impressive” of the bunch, he naturally became the group’s leader.
“Brother Liang, but that’s all in the past now…” Xue Na didn’t know what else to say to A-Tao, so she stammered, “B-but that business with my grandparents… It… it eventually got resolved, didn’t it?”
“Haha! You’re right!” A-Tao laughed heartily. “It was resolved! But do you think it would’ve been resolved if you father hadn’t had money to throw around?”
“Xue Guangliang!” Jiang Zhengkai shouted. “There’s plenty of ways to make money in this country, but you have to do it the right way!”
“The right way?” A-Tao spat out the words in contempt. “What’s the right way? Tell me, Jiang! What’s the right way?” A-Tao’s tone eased up a bit as he asked, “Can you really claim that playing the lottery is any different from gambling? Or show me how cigarettes are different from drugs? Are you telling me the country–”
BOOM! The rumble of a huge explosion came from the rear of the warehouse! Immediately after the explosion, everyone heard the sound of brick and mortar crumbling. “Inspector Jiang!” a police officer reported as he ran over to Jiang Zhengkai. “Look back there! Someone’s trying to blow a hole in the warehouse wall!”
“WHAT?” Jiang Zhengkai exclaimed as he turned his head towards the sound of the explosion. “Quick! Send men over there immediately! Don’t let these criminals escape!”
“Haha! Hey Jiang, you shouldn’t have such a one-track mind!” said A-Tao, still secure behind his human shield. “You win some, you lose some. That’s just life!” He aimed his pistol at Jiang Zhengkai, and looked like he was going to pull the trigger.
“NO!” When A-Jiao saw A-Tao aim his gun at Jiang Zhengkai, she forcefully grabbed A-Tao’s arm with both hands and pushed it towards the ceiling. A-Tao, however, didn’t use an ounce of strength to stop her assault. Rather, he used his right arm to turn A-Jiao around and thus exposing his body to Jiang Zhengkai and the myriad other police officers in the warehouse.
As he stood there witnessing this whole scene unfold, Jiang Zhengkai clearly had no idea A-Jiao would do something like that. Even more astonishing was the fact that A-Tao would push A-Jiao away from him. In that split second, Jiang Zhengkai seemed to understand what was going on inside the mind of the man in front of him. Yet in that same split second, a gunshot rang out, and A-Tao’s well-built body slowly slumped to the ground.
“Brother Liang!” cried Xue Na as she rushed towards A-Tao. A-Jiao stood dumbfounded in front of him, staring in shock as his arm slowly slipped out of her grasp and fell onto his body.
When he saw A-Tao get hit, Jiang Zhengkai also sprinted forward. A-Tao was still alive, but blood mixed with saliva was pouring out of his half-open mouth. His breathing was short and rapid, a sure sign that the bullet had pierced his lung.
A-Tao lay dying on the ground. His eyes opened wide as he stared at the ceiling, but he could no longer see anything around him. He felt as if he had returned to the army’s training grounds, surrounded by the sounds of men marching and bugles playing.
A tall and muscular man wearing the PLA’s camouflage uniform walked up to A-Tao. “What’s your name, soldier?”
“Xue Guangliang, sir!”
“You want to join my unit?”
“Good! From now on, your callsign is the Bald Wolf…”
It was him, Xue Wanchun, smiling at him. Then everything faded to black…
“Is he dead?” Yao Tianyu demanded in his booming voice as he appeared behind Jiang Zhengkai. “We can let his next-of-kin bury him once we’ve cleaned up this mess.” After inspecting A-Tao’s body, he gave it one last glance and turned to leave. As he passed by Jiang Zhengkai, he whispered softly, “He wanted you to pull the trigger, not me.”
Jiang Zhengkai looked at Yao Tianyu’s backside as he left. He felt his mind clouded by confusion. Yes, A-Tao had no intention of leaving here alive. He spent all that time mincing words with me, but at no point did he ever make any demands. Clearly, he wanted to lure all available police officers into the warehouse so that his men could escape. Fine, I lost!
But was winning and losing so important? Jiang Zhengkai thought as he looked at the lifeless body in front of him. He felt a slight sense of misery and sadness, but he didn’t feel the joy he thought he would feel now that he had his revenge. Perhaps they were simply two men who walked down two different paths, and that was all there was to it.
“Honey, can I take possession of his remains?” When Jiang Zhengkai walked over to A-Jiao and held her in his embrace for the first time in a long time, the first thing she said was about A-Tao’s remains.
“Yes,” Jiang Zhengkai nodded. “As soon as we’re done with the paperwork.”
Meanwhile, a couple of officers helped Xue Na up. As she slowly walked past Jiang Zhengkai and A-Jiao, she shot them a glance before leaving the warehouse in silence.
Until today, no one knew that Xue Na was Xue Wanchun’s daughter. Actually, to be precise, it should be said that no one other than the top brass at bureau headquarters knew about her true identity. After today, however, the truth of her parentage became common knowledge among all the city’s police officers. This was not welcome news for Xue Na. No one knew what kind of trouble was in store for her now that the cat was out of the bag.
After the police were done with their paperwork, they handed A-Tao’s remains over to A-Jiao. They also gave her a handwritten letter they had found amongst his possessions. The letter was very short. It said:
I’m gone. Don’t hate me. Everything that was mine is now yours.
That cop Jiang is a good man. Live a happy life.
After A-Tao’s remains were cremated, A-Jiao and Jiang Zhengkai buried his ashes in a civilian cemetery. It was far away from the city and surrounded by beautiful scenery. Most importantly, there was an army base not far from the cemetery. Standing over his grave, one could almost see soldiers training in the distance. Perhaps this way, A-Tao’s soul could forever be with his beloved army.
“Do you still hate him, Honey?” A-Jiao softly asked as she placed a bouquet of flowers at A-Tao’s grave.
“No, I don’t,” Jiang Zhengkai calmly replied. “In another life, I think we could’ve been good brothers-in-arms.”