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In the end, Gua Nine helped Shi Jin out of his predicament. He patted the teenager’s shoulder and gestured towards the sea: “Nine Eagles is here.”
Shi Jin immediately turned in the direction he indicated, nonchalantly curling his upright middle finger and lowering his hand, and pretended nothing happened just now.
In the distance, there indeed appeared a large ship. It flew a big golden banner with an eagle on both sides—ostentatious and easily recognizable.
The other organizations also noticed Nine Eagles’ arrival, and the quiet deck instantly became abuzz.
“It’s Nine Eagles.”
“Nine Eagles arrive later and later every year.”
“I’ve heard Annihilation can’t restrain them anymore.”
Various whispered remarks and fragments of conversations came from all over the deck. Shi Jin heard them clearly because of Xiao Si’s hearing-enhancement buff. He looked at Nine Eagle’s ship, and a small wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows—they’d already affected Annihilation’s effectiveness as the deterring force, which wasn’t good.
“Poseurs,” a woman suddenly said, full of disdain. She was about forty, her hair cut in a short bob, and gorgeously dressed. Her voice, though not loud, drew many people’s attention because of its distinct husky quality.
Everyone looked in her direction.
However, the woman had already turned away. After greeting the conference chairman Zhang Zhuoyan, she took her subordinates and walked towards the large conference room connected to the deck.
“She’s Lu Shan, the boss of Tarantula. She’s shrewd and ruthless. On the surface, she and Jun-shao seem to be mortal enemies, but in fact, they’re old friends,” Gua Nine whispered in Shi Jin’s ear.
Shi Jin hadn’t expected this. He took a closer look at Lu Shan, confirmed the position of Tarantula’s ship, and internally marked its spot with a green dot for “friendly.”
As they talked, Nine Eagles’ ship passed through the outer ring of vessels, approaching closer and closer. Finally, it squeezed between the smaller vessels on the peripheries, moving towards Annihilation’s ship, and stopped next to it. Now, Annihilation was caught between it and Phantom.
Xiao Si’s breath caught. <JinJin, Darling’s progress bar rose to 900 just after Nine Eagles approached our ship!>
Shi Jin frowned and glowered at Nine Eagles’ ship—since the bar jumped so high, it was glaringly obvious their purpose was anything but innocuous.
Gua Nine didn’t like it either. His expression turned serious, and a rare look of disgust appeared on his baby face: “It looks like Nine Eagles’ boss is tired of living.”
Anyone even superficially familiar with the situation would realize this seemingly ordinary action was actually provocation. So, everyone looked at Lian Jun, who, in turn, watched the people coming up with Zhang Zhuoyuan, wanting to see his reaction.
Lian Jun glanced Nine Eagles’ direction, but his expression remained unchanged. He unhurriedly took out his phone, checked the hour, then said to Zhang Zhuoyuan, “It’s quarter to ten, we should get ready to begin the meeting.”
At these words, Zhang Zhuoyuan looked away from Nine Eagles. Without asking whether they should wait for Nine Eagles, whose ship hadn’t joined the web of bridges yet, he looked up at Liu Zhenjun outside the bridge three decks higher and nodded. Liu Zhenjun nodded back and signaled with his hand. The soldiers instantly raised the deck fence, which had been lowered to let the people board, then surrounded the main deck, stopping at fixed distances away from each other.
The underworld bosses who still hadn’t left the deck exchanged meaningful glances. The sharper ones immediately guessed the officials were dissatisfied with Nine Eagles’ attitude. Even the less intelligent ones noticed Nine Eagles’ cold shoulder treatment due to their late arrival.
Their minds filled with speculations, the bosses moved into the conference room. Their retinues stopped at the entrance, the bosses entering alone. The men who accompanied the leaders who’d gone earlier and waited inside for the meeting to start also began to leave.
Before long, the underworld bosses were all in the conference room, and their subordinates were outside.
Lian Jun was no exception. At the door, he gestured for Gua One to stop. He glanced towards Shi Jin and Gua Nine out of the corner of his eye and found that the teenager was not only not looking at him but wasn’t even facing this direction. For a second, his brows knitted in a frown, but he quickly regained his inscrutable expression and entered the conference room with Zhang Zhuoyuan.
At 9:55, the door closed, and the sunblinds raised, exposing floor-to-ceiling windows with a clear view into the conference room.
Once the blinds rose, the subordinates, clearly used to it, looked inside to check the positions of their leaders, then moved to stand nearby. It made the powerful bosses of the criminal organizations look like a bunch of monkeys in a zoo.
Shi Jin: “……” This wasn’t how he envisioned a secret meeting.
Gua Nine explained, “It’s specially made, bulletproof glass. The leaders inside aren’t allowed to carry weapons, but their subordinates are. This way, even if a firefight happens, the people in the conference room won’t be harmed, and if anything happens in the room, the people outside can rush in to help. This is the compromise between the government and the underworld, and it’s been this way for many years.”
Shi Jin was speechless once again.
The table in the conference room was rectangular. Zhang Zhuoyuan sat at the head, with several assistants behind him, probably to help with the paperwork. Lian Jun sat first on his right, Lu Shan second. The first seat on the left was empty—it probably belonged to the tardy Nine Eagles’ leader.
Phantom’s leader gave no real name, only a codename—Old Ghost. He was fourth on the left. He sat among the top echelon, but his position wasn’t good.
The meeting started at ten sharp. Zhang Zhuoyuan’s assistants distributed documents and writing utensils.
The people outside couldn’t hear anything inside. Shi Jin saw Lian Jun accept the stack of files and look through them, so he continued watching Nine Eagles’ ship.
They were building a gangway to the government ship. Though they stopped close to it, Annihilation’s ship wasn’t going to offer help nor allow them to connect to it, so they had to detour around.
Objectively speaking, Nine Eagles worked quickly, but they arrived too late. By the time the gangway was completed, the meeting was already ten minutes underway.
Liu Zhenjun descended to the main deck and watched the leader of Nine Eagles come up the gangway, only to be blocked by the deck fence. He said, stone-faced, “Please return. Once the fence is raised, it will stay that way until the meeting ends. For the afternoon meeting, please arrive earlier.”
Nine Eagles’ leader was a young man about Lian Jun’s age, handsome but thuggish-looking. He raised his eyebrows and replied, “It’s like this? Well, whatever. The morning meeting is just a roll call anyway, boring as fuck. Have fun then, I’ll go back. See you later.” He swaggered back to his ship, followed by his men.
Liu Zhenjun watched them leave, eyes cold, then turned and returned to the bridge.
Shi Jin hadn’t expected the boss of Nine Eagles to be this kind of character and was stunned into silence. After a moment, he asked, “Has he always acted so arrogantly? Even towards the officials?”
“He’s an idiot.” Gua Nine’s tone was full of disdain. “Even if they came late, if he took a tender instead of waiting for the gangway to be ready, he would be on time. ‘All face and no brains’ describes him perfectly. He actually displayed such a blatant lack of respect—maybe he feels his life is going too smoothly.”
Despite his words, Shi Jin felt Nine Eagles’ leader’s arrogance wasn’t because of him lacking brains. It seemed more like he had a bargaining chip, assuring him he wouldn’t be targeted by the government or pulled down by the other organizations, and so he feared nothing.
“Shi Jin.” Gua Nine suddenly called his name.
Startled, Shi Jin emerged from his thoughts and gave him an inquiring look. “Yes?”
Gua Nine discreetly gestured towards in a direction: “That man has been watching you, he seems to know you.”
Shi Jin turned his head. Unsurprisingly, the person staring was Fei Yujing, whose existence he intended to ignore. His eyebrows wandered up. Without hesitation, he turned away and faced the sea. “That’s my second brother, Fei Yujing. I want to pretend not to know him, cooperate with me.”
The other man was taken aback. After a moment of shocked silence, he faced the sea too and said, “I remember your second brother is a lawyer. How can he appear here?”
“I have no idea, he came with Phantom’s boss.”
Gua Nine nodded to show he understood then took out his phone and reported the situation to Gua One.
So, when Lian Jun pretended to inadvertently look Shi Jin’s way during a meeting break, he found the teenager fascinated by the scenery and not paying any attention at all to the situation of his employer in the “lion’s den.”
“That’s your new subordinate?” Lu Shan, sitting next to him, said in a low voice as she glanced through the documents.
Lian Jun moved his sight away casually as if he was just looking around and flipped through the pages. “Don’t ask what you shouldn’t.”
“Tch, the older you get, the less cute you are.” Lu Shan frowned in dissatisfaction and pushed her chair further away, clearly unwilling to sit close to Lian Jun.
Others looked over at the sound. Seeing that it was Lu Shan moving her chair, they all stopped paying attention—they were accustomed to it.
The older the organization, the more enemies it had, and Annihilation and Tarantula belonged to the oldest. The hatred accumulated between them over the years was probably deeper than the sea underneath. Yet, for some unknown reason, every year, the officials arranged their leaders to sit next to each other.
The morning meeting was just a headcount and a brief rundown. It ended punctually at 11:30. The afternoon meeting, the day’s main event, would begin at 2 p.m.
The subordinates collected their leaders at the entrance to the conference room. After Liu Zhenjun gave the order to lower the deck fence, they left for their vessels.
Shi Jin watched the sea for more than one hour, and Fei Yujing’s stared at his back for more than one hour. He was exhausted. When Lian Jun came out, he rushed to his side and grabbed the wheelchair handles before Gua One could. “Jun-shao, was the meeting tiring?”
“Was watching the scenery tiring?” Asked Lian Jun in reply, his tone and expression bland.
Shi Jin straightforwardly nodded and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, it was. My eyes are swollen because of the briny sea breeze.”
Lian Jun’s hands tightened on the wheelchair armrests. He said, his tone even blander, “Then maybe you should look at something else in the afternoon.”
“I’m going to. There’s no signal here, but I can still play single-player mahjong, so that’s my plan for the afternoon,” Shi Jin announced happily. Willing to share his happiness, he suggested, “Jun-shao, you can also play mahjong during the meeting break. I brought a portable battery, do you want it?”
Lian Jun decided not to talk to him for the time being, fearing that he might reveal some flaws due to anger, and they were being watched.
Since he didn’t get a response, Shi Jin opened his mouth to ask again, but Gua One finally couldn’t endure. He put a hand on the teenager’s shoulder and pulled him back, taking over the wheelchair handles. He gave Gua Two a glance saying “look after him,” then pushed Lian Jun a little faster.
Gua Two caught the “baggage” thrown at him and put a hand over Shi Jin’s mouth.
Shi Jin felt he was being attacked and twisted, trying to jab his fingers into Gua Two’s eyes.
A bit rowdy, the group moved toward the restaurant for lunch. Unexpectedly, Phantom’s boss chased after them, calling Lian Jun’s name.
Lian Jun gestured for Gua One to stop and glanced at Old Ghost and Fei Yujing, who approached rapidly. His gaze pausing on the lawyer, he asked, “Do you need me for something, Old Ghost?”
“I want to have lunch with you,” the man replied matter-of-factly, but his fingers formed a “9”.
“9,” nine, Nine Eagles.
Lian Jun saw it and nodded. “Come on, then. This is?”
“Fei Yujing, the lawyer I invited. My business had some problems recently, and several of my deputies were caught up in it. He’s here to help solve it,” Old Ghost explained and made introductions. “And this is Lian Jun, the leader of Annihilation.”
Fei Yujing offered his hand to Lian Jun, his manner polite and respectful: “Pleased to meet you.”
Lian Jun shook his hand but didn’t say anything in reply. He nodded then signaled Gua One to continue pushing him to the restaurant.
Old Ghost was surprised—just now, Lian Jun very obviously gave Fei Yujing the cold shoulder, but Lian Jun was by no means the kind of person who would be rude to someone he met for the first time. He frowned then asked, voice low, “Have you met Lian Jun before?”
“I haven’t.” Fei Yujing shook his head, never moving his eyes away from Shi Jin, who tried very hard to pretend his brother was nothing more than a part of the background scenery. He pondered for a moment. “Mr. Lian’s attitude should be because of certain personal reasons. Don’t worry, it won’t affect your business.”
Old Ghost had complete confidence in him, so these words succeeded in reassuring him, and he inquired no more.
The group entered a box.
Shi Jin felt Fei Yujing’s gaze on him from time to time and continued to pretend not to notice. He sat at the far end of the table with Gua Nine, eating quietly.
Since Phantom’s leader was present, everyone was on their best behavior. Nobody spoke, except for Lian Jun, Old Ghost, and Fei Yujing.
After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Old Ghost finally got to the point.
“My business in the southeast has gone wrong, and it’s confirmed Nine Eagles had their hands in it. Nine Eagles’ leader, Zuo Yang, is ambitious—what he wants is not your position, but a position higher than yours. According to my information, he already took control of several local organizations, that’s why my business went belly up. The southeast is getting more and more chaotic. Though Nine Eagles stirred up trouble for me, I have no intention of fighting it out with them. Not being able to do business is fine, however, I must protect my people, I can’t abandon them.”
Lian Jun’s finger tapped on the wheelchair armrest. “So?”
“So I hired Mr. Fei and prepared to leave the underworld. I’ll use financial crimes as a pretext and ask the authorities to use official channels to let my people be extradited back to the country. This is the safest way I can think of.” Old Ghost explained his plan frankly and without reserve, his attitude sincere.
Lian Jun, likely having already guessed the other leader’s purpose in coming to him, said, “Old Ghost, you can’t be this naive. It’s Nine Eagles and the local organizations who grabbed your people, what’s more, across the border—the official hand doesn’t stretch that far.”
Old Ghost replied, “It indeed doesn’t, but yours does.”
This was a request for help.
Gua One and Gua Two shot the man a glance then their gazes returned to their plates as if nothing happened.
Lian Jun didn’t respond. The atmosphere became somewhat oppressive for a while. It was obvious Old Ghost was impatient, but he managed to keep it in check and didn’t urge Lian Jun to give him an immediate answer.
“Excuse me—who is that, if I may be so bold to ask?” Fei Yujing, quiet until now, suddenly spoke up. He looked straight at Shi Jin, who was engrossed in gnawing a spare rib.
Like one, everyone at the table raised their heads and turned to stare at the teenager.
Shi Jin, suddenly finding himself at the center of attention, froze mid-chew, spare rib in his mouth. He glanced at Fei Yujing, then at Lian Jun, his expression innocent.
“His my subordinate, code name Gua Four,” Lian Jun answered, looking at Fei Yujing. “Why, is Mr. Fei interested in my subordinates?”
Fei Yujing looked away from Shi Jin and replied lightly, “A bit. I haven’t seen someone eat in such a ‘special’ way for a long time. It’s an experience.”
His words implied Shi Jin’s way of eating was unsightly.
Shi Jin spit out the bone, wiped his lips with a napkin, then retorted, “I didn’t expect Mr. Fei to have such meager experience—I would’ve thought someone so worldly has seen people wholeheartedly enjoying their meal more than once. I guess the long decades of his life must have been exceptionally bitter. Jun-shao, it seems the way I eat disturbs Mr. Fei. Would you like me to leave?”
“No need.” Lian Jun stopped him, his tone faint. “Gua Three, let the staff prepare another table for Mr. Fei.”
Gua Three set down his chopsticks and got up.
The others focused on their meal as if they’d heard nothing.
Old Ghost hadn’t expected the situation to become like this. Seeing that Lian Jun really intended to have Fei Yujing sit at another table, he hurriedly took on the role of a peacemaker: he appeased Shi Jin with a few sentences and stood up to try to stop Gua Three.
Lian Jun could embarrass Fei Yujing but couldn’t do the same to Old Ghost, so he allowed Gua Three to come back. However, his attitude became colder.
Shi Jin stuffed another spare rib in his mouth, looking at his brother provocatively.
Fei Yujing returned his stare, not at all embarrassed. On the contrary, his expression was contemplative.
Later, Old Ghost tried to pick up the previous topic, but Lian Jun wasn’t willing to play along and avoided it with great finesse. Yet, the matter must’ve been truly urgent—as lunch came to an end, Phantom’s leader suddenly fell silent. Then, apparently having decided to go for broke, he said, “Jun-shao, if you help me this once, I can help you get rid of Nine Eagles.”
This was a huge sacrifice. Phantom kept a low profile and never provoked trouble if it could help it. Now, to obtain a favor from Lian Jun, its leader practically offered to become his pawn.
Yet Lian Jun remained indifferent. “I don’t care about Nine Eagles.”
All his entreaties ignored, Old Ghost was getting visibly testy. Abruptly, Fei Yujing broke the silence again. “I’m sorry,” he said towards Shi Jin.
Shi Jin blinked, unable to understand what the hell his brother was playing at. And, to his surprise, he saw his progress bar drop back to 550.
Lian Jun looked at Fei Yujing and finally eased up a bit. He said, “Old Ghost, I can deliver your message to the authorities and ask them to cooperate with your plan, but I won’t help you with the southeast. Your brothers’ lives are important—my brothers’ lives are equally important.”
At first, Old Ghost’s expression turned happy, but by the end of Lian Jun’s words, it became a frown again. He remained silent for a while then gritted his teeth and forced out, “Actually, there is another reason why I was targeted by Nine Eagles.”
The man was finally willing to come clean.
Inexplicably, the atmosphere became less tense. Lian Jun leaned back in his wheelchair. “Speak.”
Seeing his attitude, how could Old Ghost not realize who lost their psychological war? He sighed inwardly, accepting his defeat, and said, “My subordinates discovered Nine Eagles was looking for the doctor that used to work for you and found a clue in the southeast.”
The atmosphere changed the instant these words left his mouth. Gua One and others could not help sitting up straight and staring at Old Ghost.
“Keep eating.” Lian Jun knocked on the table.
Everyone took control of their emotions and continued to eat and chat as if everything was normal, though actually, all of their attention was on Phantom’s leader.
Shi Jin also looked at Old Ghost with a slight frown. His intuition told him the doctor the man mentioned had something to do with the state of Lian Jun’s body, and his heart tightened.
The strange atmosphere made Old Ghost a bit unnerved, and he straightforwardly revealed all he knew: “After discovering Nine Eagles’ movements, I ordered my subordinates to pay attention to them. They followed their trail to a small, not well-known hospital. On the surface, it seems to be just an old community hospital, but it’s actually used by a local organization as a place to store goods. The doctor who betrayed you has been hiding there all these years. He had plastic surgery and changed his identity—if Nine Eagles hadn’t been watching him, I would’ve never found him suspicious.”
Lian Jun calmly listened to the whole thing then asked, “What happened to him?”
Old Ghost clenched his fists. “He was taken away by Nine Eagles after my subordinates tried to approach him.”
The atmosphere at the table changed again. No one here was a fool—they were clear what Phantom’s leader’s intentions had been. The “approach” he mentioned wasn’t just getting in contact with that person, but an attempt to snatch him from Nine Eagles’ hands. As for his purpose—needless to say, it was the same as that of Nine Eagles. They both wanted to use the man against Annihilation or Lian Jun.
Unfortunately, Phantom wasn’t strong enough; not only did they fail at the grab but also suffered Nine Eagles’ retaliation. Now, they were driven out of the southeast where they advanced two years ago, and Old Ghost had no other recourse but to come to the man he was scheming against to ask for help. This behavior was nothing if not contemptible. It was no wonder he was reluctant to disclose the whole truth—forget helping him save his people, he would be lucky if Lian Jun didn’t kill him.
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