Sunset Boulevard - Chap 8
Chen Boqiao slept lightly, so when Zhang Jue turned over and sat up, Chen Boqiao woke up.
The room was dimly lit, Zhang Jue did not turn on the light, and stood by the bed with his back to Chen Boqiao while changing. He hung his head, pulled off his T-shirt, revealing his thin back and put on a shirt he wore out. Then he leaned over and took the tablet, and stood at the end of the bed looking at the screen as if he was being punished.
Chen Boqiao looked at the scene for a while, and suddenly realised that Zhang Jue was probably worried that the mattress would sink when he sat down and that might wake him up, so he stood there stiffly.
Zhang Jue looked at the screen for half a minute, then suddenly put the tablet aside, took the hair tie from the small cabinet, raised his arm and moved the hair trapped in his collar with his hands. He tied it loosely, then took the tablet to continue with his work. Black hair fell behind Zhang Jue’s pale neck, making him look docile and tame.
Chen Boqiao remembered the feeling of Zhang Jue’s hair on his hand. It was very soft. And like Zhang Jue himself, it felt harmless to Chen Boqiao.
After arriving in the TIS, during his first phone call with Pei Shu, Pei Shu had commented that Zhang Jue was “overly stubborn” and adviced Chen Boqiao to stay away from Zhang Jue.
Whether to stay away from Zhang Jue was a choice Chen Boqiao would make for himself, but he thought that Pei Shu’s use of the term was accurate.
Zhang Jue had two strange conflicting qualities. He was both very determined and not at all confident. He was sometimes reliable, meticulous in his planning, cautious and made arrangements perfect for the situation at hand, as if he had planted a map of the TIS in his mind. But sometimes he acted in such irrational and strange ways, like leaving such a large deposit for the pet hospital after seeing the news of animal abuse in the hospital, as if the lame stray cat picked up by Chen Boqiao randomly was some purebreed race-level treasure.
When Chen Boqiao teased him casually, he would look nervous, like a cat whose tail was grabbed by an invisible hand, forcibly trying to hide its panic and confusion, maintaining a weak facade of composure. It was very interesting.
But regarding Zhang Jue, Chen Boqiao thought that there was one thing that Pei Shu got wrong.
Even if they attend the dinner together, the least popular alpha in the present would probably still be Pei Shu. At the very least, “receptionist Wen” at the pet hospital seemed to have taken a liking to Zhang Jue.
Chen Boqiao was remembering the messages sent to Zhang Jue by the receptionist when Zhang Jue glanced back.
Seeing Chen Boqiao’s eyes open, Zhang Jue was a little shocked. He turned on the wall lamp, and asked softly, “You’re awake?”
“Yeah.” Chen Boqiao sat up.
“Did I wake you up?” Zhang Jue widened his eyes and asked Chen Boqiao.
If Chen Boqiao told the truth, Zhang Jue would probably put on that depressed face that Chen Boqiao found very interesting. But this early in the morning, Chen Boqiao felt that it was unnecessary, so he denied it. “No, I woke up naturally.”
“Well, I’m watching the news. An important media outlet of the Asian League released a consolidation of doubts about your case late last night,” said Zhang Jue. He handed the tablet to Chen Boqiao to show him, “It was signed and published by a group of experts.”
Chen Boqiao discovered very early on that the news Zhang Jue was willing to show him must be of the kind that was absolutely beneficial to Chen Boqiao and would not so much as dampen his mood.
While news like the one Chen Boqiao happily heard while transiting in the armoured vehicle, Zhang Jue had to cut off before he even heard half of it.
Chen Boqiao took the tablet and skimmed the text on the screen quickly.
The publication was obviously the work of Pei Shu and his consultants. The text eloquently stated the irrationality of Chen Boqiao’s escape from prison at this time, starting from how he could have appealed successfully to begin with, and then to how the protests by the League’s people to publicize the original document of Chen Boqiao’s criminal evidence were forced to cool down after his supposed escape, interspersed with hints of the possibility of the president having planned this ahead.
It was written in the news that half an hour after the publication of the article, the Presidential Office urgently held a press conference to respond to several points raised in the article and announced that the president would give a public speech on the matter three days later.
But everyone was dissatisfied with the response of the Presidential office. After the press conference, the questioning voices intensified, asking why the President had to wait for three days to show up. Was it because no one prepared the speech for him in advance, or was he anxious to move colonel Chen to a more secluded place etc.
If it weren’t Chen Boqiao who had proposed this idea, he might’ve just believed that he was now imprisoned by the President in a secret place, waiting to be executed.
“Very creative.” Chen Boqiao commented and returned the tablet to Zhang Jue.
Zhang Jue took it, put it aside, and walked to the end of the bed, digging out wallet and key from his bag.
Chen Boqiao watched Zhang Jue’s movements and asked, “Are you going out now?”
Zhang Jue nodded “Going to buy breakfast. I contacted my friend already, I’ll go find him in the afternoon.” Then he asked Chen Boqiao, “What do you want to eat?”
“Whatever is okay.” Chen Boqiao said.
Zhang Jue did not force Chen Boqiao to answer. He said “OK” and then went out.
There was no TV in the safe house. Chen Boqiao changed his clothes and went to the small living room to listen to the broadcast for a while, when Zhang Jue returned.
He brought bread and coffee, put them on the coffee table that functioned as a small dining table in the living room, and opened the package for Chen Boqiao.
After taking a sip of coffee, Chen Boqiao watched Zhang Jue and said, “Am I going with you this afternoon?”
Zhang Jue glanced at Chen Boqiao and asked, “You want to go?” He was afraid that Chen Boqiao would feel that his rhetorical question sounded reluctant, so he added, “If you want to, I can help you do the makeup after breakfast.”
“Okay.” Chen Boqiao nodded to Zhang Jue and smiled again. Zhang Jue lowered his head and took another bite of the bread.
Zhang Jue ate very little. After eating a slice of the bread and putting it down, he never picked it up again. He sat there for a while, then suddenly said to Chen Boqiao, “I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.The friend I’m meeting also went to Roche, he’s one grade above us.”
“Really?” Chen Boqiao was a little interested, so he asked, “What’s the name?”
“Harrison, Harrison R. Owen,” Zhang Jue looked at Chen Boqiao with some hopeful spark in his eyes.
As Chen Boqiao’s silence prolonged, the hope in Zhang Jue’s eyes slowly disappeared.
After waiting for a while, Zhang Jue said “Don’t think too much about it, you probably don’t know him.”
Chen Boqiao looked at Zhang Jue quietly. Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao looked at each other for a few seconds, then Zhang Jue looked away. Chen Boqiao asked Zhang Jue, “Is he a native of TIS?”
“No,” Zhang Jue shook his head, “He came here a few years ago and opened a strip club and security company in Bangkok.”
Chen Boqiao heard the “strip club” and raised his eyebrows subconsciously. Zhang Jue saw Chen Boqiao’s expression and immediately defended Harrison, “The legal kind, with a business license.”
“Well,” Chen Boqiao nodded with a laugh, and asked, “Will we be going to the security company or the club?”
“…” Zhang Jue hesitated, “The office is above the club.”
Chen Boqiao looked at Zhang Jue’s somewhat embarrassed face, and couldn’t help but want to know more about the strange friendship between Zhang Jue and the owner of the strip club.
“He’s one grade above us, how did you meet?”
Zhang Jue thought about it, then said, “I can’t remember it either.”
“But Harrison and I were the same kind of people back in Roche,” he recalled.
Zhang Jue described it as “The kind that is not very popular.”
Zhang Jue’s definition of himself seemed very negative on the surface, but Chen Boqiao knew that Zhang Jue was speaking the truth.
All the students of Roche had good family backgrounds, most of them were ambitious, enjoyed socializing, and participated in various competitions. Zhang Jue’s family was well to do, but in Roche, they could only be considered ordinary. He was introverted and withdrawn according to Pei Shu. Chen Boqiao had trained with him in the canoeing team for several years, and yet he could not remember much about Zhang Jue.
“After we met, we sometimes ate together,” Zhang Jue said again, “If we weren’t together, we’d both be alone.”
Chen Boqiao knew very well about the school’s environment and atmosphere at that time. Those people probably weren’t ostracizing or isolating Zhang Jue on purpose. Everyone was just so busy with their own projects or resumes that no one had the time to pay attention to Zhang Jue and his solitude.
“After Harrison dropped out, I was alone.”
Chen Boqiao watched Zhang Jue speak nonchalantly with some strange discomfort in his heart, but he could not argue back to Zhang Jue.
Since he was recalling things from a long time ago, Zhang Jue said it with many pauses. His tone was flat, not showing any unhappiness. He was purely narrating a story to Chen Boqiao. “Before Harrison came to the TIS, something happened, and I helped him. Then he came to the TIS and we kept in touch. He is very reliable, and Zonra was also part of his help to me.”
“But,” Zhang Jue said again, “His club is quite noisy, you definitely won’t like it.”
Chen Boqiao smiled. “Really…”
“Yes,” Zhang Jue nodded and promised, “If you don’t like it, we will leave immediately after we finish.”
That morning, Zhang Jue disguised Chen Boqiao again. Since it was his second time, Zhang Jue moved a little faster. Chen Boqiao watched Zhang Jue while Zhang Jue applied the bionic skin to him, and observed Zhang Jue’s ears flushing.
Zhang Jue’s fingertips were very soft. He did not have the calluses that Chen Boqiao had from holding a gun all the time. As long as Chen Boqiao did not open his mouth to say any nonsensical things to Zhang Jue, Zhang Jue’s hand was very stable.
But Chen Boqiao was bored and couldn’t help but want to tease Zhang Jue.
Despite all the trouble they went through at Chen Boqiao’s whims, he regained his beard and high cheekbones.
Zhang Jue brought Chen Boqiao out for a simple lunch, changed to a new car, passed through Bangkok’s slums, dense houses and high-rise buildings, then finally stopped on a crowded entertainment street.
The shop signs on the street were mostly shining with colorful lights, and Omegas dressed as bunny girls were calling out to potential customers at the entrance of each club. Zhang Jue parked his car on the side of the road, and took Chen Boqiao in with ease, stopping at the entrance of the largest club on the street.
“Sirs, the first show of the afternoon in our club has already started, and entry is temporarily not allowed.” A bunny girl at the door winked at Zhang Jue, placed her hand delicately on Zhang Jue’s shoulder, and leaned towards Zhang Jue in a manner that Chen Boqiao thought should be corrected somehow, licked her lips, and said, “The time for the next show is in two hours. After registering your contact information, you can walk around. I will notify you when it is time to come to our show.”
After listening to her, Zhang Jue took out a business card and showed it to her.
“I’m looking for him.”
The bunny girl’s expression changed, her hand on Zhang Jue’s shoulder immediately retracted, and she nodded curtly to Zhang Jue, opened the door with a push of her hips, and said to Zhang Jue, “Sir, this way please.”
As soon as the door opened, the sound of psychedelic electronic music mixed with people’s cheers leaked out.
Chen Boqiao and Zhang Jue walked in with the bunny girl. They happened to see four or five barely clothed Omegas jumping off the stage twerking, squeezing into the crowd of Betas and Alphas with cash clutched in their waving fists and hands trying to reach out and touch their bodies.
The bunny girl didn’t take them upstairs right away. She walked off to the side to converse with a tall security chief, and came back to Zhang Jue. “The boss seems to be backstage, I will take you there.”
Suddenly, the crowd looked towards them. One of the Omegas who jumped off the stage made his way out the crowd.
The cloth pocket on the side of the Omega’s thong was stuffed with cash. Seeing Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao, he sashayed over. He looked at Chen Boqiao and Zhang Jue quickly. He chose Zhang Jue as his first target, dancing right next to Zhang Jue, snapping his hips sensually, and the bells tied on his legs made a crisp tinkling sound. It was clear and audible despite the electronic music.
Perhaps smelling Zhang Jue’s pheromones, the Omega hooked his hands behind Zhang Jue’s neck and pulled Zhang Jue down, exposing his neck to Zhang Jue’s mouth.
Zhang Jue was half a head taller than the dancing Omega, so the dancer had a hard time pulling him down. Zhang Jue stood for a few seconds, casting his eyes down blankly, then lowered his head, pressed down on the Omega’s waist, and whispered something to the Omega that Chen Boqiao could not hear.
From Chen Boqiao’s perspective, Zhang Jue’s lips almost touched the position of the Omega’s scent glands. And Zhang Jue’s hands were very slender, his thumb pressed against Omega’s waist, and it looked like an invitation disguised as a refusal.
Just as Chen Boqiao thought that Zhang Jue was surprisingly familiar with this routine, Zhang Jue took out his wallet even more skillfully, drew out a stack of cash, and stuffed it into the bag that was dangling against the Omega’s thigh. Zhang Jue’s knuckles brushed on the Omega’s hip bone. The dancer may have misunderstood Zhang Jue’s intentions, and tilted his head slightly, inching his face closer, as if he wanted to kiss Zhang Jue.
But this time, Zhang Jue reacted quickly and withdrew his hand, took a step back. He blocked the dancer’s advances discreetly.
The Omega was stunned, and gave a very sweet smile. He said to Zhang Jue, “Sir, for your tip, the club provides two extra services for you——”
“——Zhang Jue.” Chen Boqiao did something he didn’t do often, and interrupted the Omega dancer.
Zhang Jue raised his eyes, turned his gaze back to Chen Boqiao, and asked with confusion, “What’s the matter?”
Chen Boqiao looked straight at Zhang Jue and asked politely and clearly, “Can we go now?”
“Sure,” Zhang Jue glanced at the bunny girl and said, “Let’s go.”
The bunny girl nodded with a start and led them backstage.
Zhang Jue walked beside Chen Boqiao. On the way backstage, he repeatedly peered at Chen Boqiao, and finally said with some hesitation, “I didn’t pay the first time I was here. Harrison said I broke his rules and wanted to kick me out.”
Chen Boqiao kept his tone blank. “I see.”