Dong Zheng said, “Show me?”
Cui Zuojing said, “Definitely not! I warn you not to mess around.”
Dong Zheng teased, “What should I do? Or should I put you on my shoulders?”
Cui Zuojing was wearing sports pants, which was looser than Dong Zheng’s jeans. When the horse ran, the fabric would rub against his skin. Not only that, his sitting posture also wasn’t very proper, and the saddle would sometimes rub on his legs in a way that wasn’t very friendly to the tender and sensitive skin there.
He chose to be nice to himself. Cui Zuojing patted the horse on the back, raised his head, and said to Dong Zheng, “I’d better go back. This would make it easier too. Otherwise, after carrying two men, I’m afraid the horse would become exhausted before we reach the hotel.”
“Okay, go back first.” Dong Zheng lightly ruffled Cui Zuojing’s hair, and then he smiled and patted the young man’s hand. The grass pattern on the back of his left hand flashed, and Cui Zuojing’s figure disappeared in place.
The blood contract should be cancelled as soon as possible. Dong Zheng had this idea again in his mind.
Cui Zuojing liked exploring and being adventurous in the box. He enjoyed experiencing all kinds of wonderful worlds, but the status of a prisoner restricted him all the time, preventing him from doing what he wanted to do freely.
Dong Zheng kicked the horse and set off again to Ms. Lois’s hotel. Due to the loss of the extra weight, the horse’s speed was significantly faster.
After traveling for more than ten miles, a man-made object appeared in the natural landscape. Dong Zheng took a steel bridge across the river. He saw railroad tracks that looked to be still in use, making it increasingly possible that the faint outlines in the distance was a town.
Based on the clues, this setting should be the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. The industrial wave was fierce, and automobiles and flying planes were just being produced. People were frantically exploring the barren west, insisting that it was like the “Red Dead Redemption.¹”
At the end of his line of sight, the outline of a small building emerged. Ten minutes later, the horse stopped in front of the house, breathing heavily.
The small, old-fashioned building was four stories high. Most of the windows were closed, and the rain on the roof was still flowing down the walls. A black Ford was parked in the backyard. At that hotel entrance was a sign with the words “The Mermaid Hotel” written on it, and the entrance steps had potholes and a string of dog footprints.
Dong Zheng patted the horse’s neck as a reward and temporarily led him to rest in the horse stall by the building. He touched the short-barreled gun hung on the waist holster and pushed the hotel door open.
The gradual, bright morning light shone through the opened door, illuminating the lady who was sitting at the front desk and reading the newspaper.
It was quite cold when it rained, and there was no fireplace in the room to warm it up. She was draped in a piece of black fur. She raised her head full of brown tight, round curls. Her makeup was exquisite, but it couldn’t completely conceal the fine lines on her nearly forty-years-old face.
[Challenge Mission: Go to Ms. Lois’s hotel (completed).]
[Mission Update: Find the murderer hiding in the hotel.]
Murderer? Dong Zheng calmly thought of the bullets in his gun.
The woman must be Ms. Lois, the hotel owner. Dong Zheng didn’t know the relationship between his current identity and Ms. Lois so he took the lead in pretending to be dissatisfied with the weather. Patting off the rain on his cowboy hat, he said, “This damn ghost weather. I’ll have to bathe the horse later.”
Ms. Lois put down the newspaper, looked at Dong Zheng at the door, smiled slightly, and said, “No wonder you came back later than the scheduled time. Did you get the thing, Amos?”
Dong Zheng brought out the cowhide pouch that he’d found next to him when he woke up. He’d opened it earlier, and it contained a few large pieces of gold.
Ms. Lois’ eyes widened. Her expression shifted slightly. She stood up, walked out from behind the counter, sealed the bag, and returned it to Dong Zheng, saying, “Sure enough, there’s a gold mine over there…I will give you the remaining balance right away. George will be here tomorrow so go upstairs and rest for a while.”
When she came out from behind the counter, Dong Zheng discovered that underneath the fur was a revealing dress that proudly displayed her exceptional figure. Only a short skirt covered her hips, and her legs were wrapped in fishnet stockings that revealed pale, white flesh. Many straight men would find it difficult to resist this kind of barely appropriate curvaceous seductiveness.
Even Cui Zuojing whistled in the prisoner space.
From Dong Zheng’s understanding of his teammates, Cui Zuojing, Lin Hangzhi, and Dong Linhai would appreciate this. No, maybe everyone in the Wonton Insurgency would appreciate it, except for him.
One time, Dong Zheng had discovered Xia Qiongyun and Wang Que gathering in the lobby to look through one of those messy, risque magazines. They were staring and commenting on the female model’s thighs and breasts. When he refused their invitation to “appreciate” it with them, he’d had to silently walk away to their giggles.
Human appreciation of beauty is gender-neutral. If Lois hadn’t rubbed against him while taking him upstairs, perhaps Dong Zheng might have politely appreciated it too.
It turned out the relationship between these two people were not entirely platonic. When he thought about Cui Zuojing watching, Dong Zheng had chills down his back. But he had to pretend to be Amos and prevent her from becoming suspicious.
He smiled ambiguously and said, “I don’t need it today, I want to take a break first.”
Lois blinked. “Is it really not necessary for me to rest with you?”
“No, I’m too tired.”
“Okay.” Lois let go of his hand, not too regretful. She pulled the fur that had fallen to her elbow back on her shoulder and gave Dong Zheng a key. “The room has already been prepared for you. If you need me, call me at any time.”
Dong Zheng let out a sound of assent and stepped up the wooden stairs. After leaving Lois’s sight, he finally gave in to Cui Zuojing’s unrelenting ridicule and sighed.
[Hahaha, you think too much] Cui Zuojing turned over and hugged the pillow in his arms, [Would you go with the flow if I wasn’t here?]
[That’s unlikely. There’s a murderer in this building. I will not expose any possible flaws.] A small note with the hotel name was attached to the key. Dong Zheng went up to the third floor, found his own room, and opened the door.
Cui Zuojing refused to give up. [What if there is no murderer?]
[I don’t like women. ]
[What if it was a handsome guy?]
Leave it to Cui Zuojing to ask such questions. Dong Zheng sighed softly. He entered the room, shut the door, opened the window opposite the door for ventilation, and said, “You don’t believe me?”
The room was clean and tidy, with a single bed and a window. In this era, TV hadn’t come out yet and so last week’s newspaper was placed on the table. Dong Zheng went through the headlines but didn’t see anything important or any clues about the murderer.
Someone seemed to be walking on the ceiling above because there was the sound of footsteps.
“Of course not.” Cui Zuojing appeared. He sat directly on the bed and looked at Dong Zheng standing by the bed and observing the hotel’s surroundings. He said, “Regarding your clarifications, what my heart knows and what I hear is different.”
“No, even if he is a twenty-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio, I won’t take another look, so can we stop ribbing on poor Ms. Lois?” This was indeed the only hotel building around. It was midway on the path leading into town and was clearly aimed at people who’d been traveling a long distance.
In other words, there was no town nearby and no shop at the back. If an out-of-town incident really occurred, it would likely be impossible for others to find out.
Dong Zheng put his hat on the table, took off the wet vest and put it on the back of the chair to dry. The wooden floor of the room wasn’t very strong, and it creaked with every step.
The bed was pushed up against the wall with a small card in the gap. Cui Zuojing curiously stretched out his hand to take it out and didn’t pay attention to the sound of approaching footsteps nor the shadow that suddenly shrouded him.
He was completely pushed down by Dong Zheng. He extended two fingers and pinched out the pink card, which showed a girl in an explicit posture. Throwing it aside, he pushed at Dong Zheng’s face with one hand and said, “I can’t! With this beard, I’d rather not!”
Dong Zheng also understood Cui Zuojing’s unwillingness to change his mentality, and he didn’t continue after having messed with him twice. It was troublesome to take a bath here. Dong Zheng thought that he wouldn’t stay too long so he gave in to laziness and decided not to wash up for the time being.
To find the murderer, he still had to investigate the other people in the hotel. The best way was to go downstairs to find Lois and check the hotel guests’ registration, but Dong Zheng didn’t want to see her again so soon.
“Do you want to go out for a stroll?” Cui Zuojing suggested. “See if you can meet other guests?”
Dong Zheng felt that the hotel owner wasn’t bad, and once he tidied up, he could go downstairs to check things out. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
Cui Zuojing rolled off the bed and temporarily hid in the bathroom.
Although it was impossible to see outside, the sounds from the other side of the door didn’t seem very suspicious. Dong Zheng opened the door and found Lois outside, who immediately smiled as she directly squeezed past him and walked into the room.
While holding a few articles of clean clothing and a drinking glass, she walked unceremoniously around the room before putting the clothes into Dong Zheng’s arm and the glass on the table. Smiling, she said, “I rummaged through some things and found the clothes you’d left behind. They have already been washed so you can just change into them. Someone delivered milk earlier, and you can try it.”
Dong Zheng said, “Thank you.”
Seeing that Dong Zheng still had no other thoughts, Lois shrugged and smiled. “If there is nothing else, I will leave.”
Once the door was closed again, Cui Zuojing came out of the narrow bathroom. Although this room was specifically prepared for “Amos,” and had a separate bathroom, it was restricted by the time period and so the condition of the bathroom wasn’t very good.
“In the end, what was your relationship with her?” Cui Zuojing started focusing on the relationship between Lois and Amos. They seemed to have slept with each other several times before, but just now, the act of sending clothes and delivering milk didn’t seem like just that of an occasional bedmate.
“I don’t know, but since it’s like this, it’s better to take advantage of it.” Dong Zheng took off his damp clothes and put on the new one. The milk sent by Lois was fragrant and warm, but although Dong Zheng was really thirsty, he didn’t drink the milk out of prudence. Instead, he drank water from the tap in the bathroom.
“Let’s go and see if anyone else is here.”
At this moment, a loud noise came from the roof.
Dong Linhai hid in a corner, not daring to escape.
As the two people discussed in low voices about how to deal with him, the sounds of their footsteps gradually faded. The place he was hiding was also a dead end.
A bead of sweat dripped down his forehead.
Ten minutes ago, Dong Linhai had woken up in this dark room.
He didn’t know what happened. At that time, he was hiding in a corner of the dragon ship, waiting for the next opportunity to attack the National Teacher. The airship suddenly shook, and then an abrupt sense of weightlessness swept over his body. His vision went dark, and when he woke up, he was already lying in this place.
This place looked like a Western hotel at the beginning of the last century, but the windows were sealed, and dim lights leaked in through the cracks. Rain dripped down the roof, hitting the window ledges.
He lay on the ground and observed for a while. When he saw that there seemed to be no danger, he briefly searched the surrounding area.
The bed was messy and was spotted with old blood stains. The window sill had half-dirty handprints, and there were things scattered around in bits and pieces, indicating that there had been a dispute. He found a little mirror in the side drawer, and the mirror showed that he’d changed back to his original appearance.
Had he been fighting in this room and was now locked in?
(1) Red Dead Redemption — probably refers to a 2010 action-adventure game set in the American frontier in the early 1900s.