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At Shi Jin’s behest, the prison guard came in to uncuff Xu Chuan and to pour in two glasses of water.
Shi Jin held the glass, silently waiting for the man opposite to compose himself.
Xu Chuan touched the picture on the table with a trembling hand, his gaze riveted on the young child in it. It was a long time before he spoke. “So this is what Jinwen looked like as a child… When I met him, his body was already in a very bad condition. It turns out there was a time when he was so healthy… That’s good, that’s good…”
Shi Jin took a sip of water and still didn’t speak.
The room became quiet. Xu Chuan stared at the picture for a long time before he finally regained his composure. Carefully covering the photo with his hand, he looked at Shi Jin and asked, “What do you want to know?”
Shi Jin put down the glass and met those eyes that were full of all kinds of restrained emotions. “I want to know who really ordered you to hire Werewolf. Don’t tell me it was Xu Tianhua, I don’t believe it.”
Xu Chuan’s eyes flashed, and he looked down to avoid his gaze. “I can’t tell you.”
This bastard still wants to try to cheat me?
“But that’s what I want to know the most.” Shi Jin took another picture from his pocket and put it face down on the table. “I guess my dad didn’t tell you—because of the treatment, when he was a teenager, there was a period of time that Mr. Jian was severely overweight. Very much like me, as it so happens.”
Xu Chuan raised his head again, looking at the picture under Shi Jin’s hand with shock and disbelief. Barely stabilizing his emotions, he uttered, “No, you must be lying to me, obviously…”
Seeing his reaction, Shi Jin knew that his previous guess was correct. Sure enough, someone like Shi Xingrui would never tell anyone that the person he liked used to look ugly and that he’d avoided him for a period of time because of it—to Shi Xingrui’s mind, it was too humiliating.
Xu Chuan was aware of a lot less than he’d thought.
His mind turning fast, he interrupted the lawyer and spoke in an aggressive way again: “‘Obviously’ what? Obviously, it was my father acting out of line? Creating me, this disgusting replica, but then allowing me to become fat, ruining Mr. Jian’s appearance? Xu Chuan, you hate me very much, hate me for desecrating your beloved’s perfect image in your memory, but that’s not right—when he was my age, he was just as fat and unsightly as me. Also, I want you to understand one more thing—it wasn’t that I became fat because I let myself, but because my dad intentionally made me put on weight. Why would he do something like that, do you think?”
“Shut up!” It was as if a thunderbolt had exploded in Xu Chuan’s mind. He wanted to refute Shi Jin’s words, but looking at the face-down photo on the table, he understood that what the teenager said was probably true.
“Xu Chuan, in this place and in your position, you have no right to tell me to shut up,” Shi Jin responded coldly, not letting him off.
Xu Chuan froze. After a while, his expression began to crumble. He slumped and bowed his head, saying with pain, “Why did he never tell me, wasn’t I his friend… Why didn’t he tell me…” He avoided mentioning Shi Jin being made fat altogether, as if it was so unacceptable his mind refused to acknowledge hearing that part.
What Shi Jin needed was for him to break completely. Tapping the photo, he said, “Because Mr. Jian is different from you—he would never use his own misery as a bargaining chip to steal warmth from other people. Xu Chuan, tell me what I want to know and I’ll tell you what you want to know. Give me the name or I’ll leave at once.”
Xu Chuan’s gaze moved to the picture under his palm again, his struggle visible on his face. At last, he appeared to have made up his mind, and looked up at Shi Jin. “I want to see that photo.”
“Give me the name first.” Shi Jin did not compromise.
Xu Chuan seemed to be unable to bear someone that looked like Jian Jinwen facing him with such a cold and merciless expression. He took a deep breath and looked away, his adam’s apple bobbing as he replied, “Not Xu Tianhua.”
Shi Jin watched him intently, without blinking.
“Yes… It was your eldest brother’s mother, Xu Jie.” Looking at Shi Jin again, he continued, “Don’t be too surprised. I know you are very dependent on your brothers, but the people who want to harm you…” At this point he paused, because Shi Jin didn’t show the surprise he’d expected, but instead revealed a look of ‘sure enough’.
The thoughts that emerged in Shi Jin’s mind at that moment really were ‘sure enough’ and ‘it’s only like this that everything fits’; there was also the relief that he had finally solved the puzzle of the plot holes in the original novel. He met Xu Chuan’s gaze with indifference, the corner of his mouth pulling up into a humourless smile. “What’s with your expression? Did you really think I’d come to talk to you without knowing enough beforehand? Go on—I want to know the truth of what happened in the past.”
It was as if Xu Chuan had been hit. He took a closer look at Shi Jin, measuring him up. “You’ve really changed. The last time we met, you were still a fool naively following behind his brother, too stupid to tell friend from foe.”
As expected of a lawyer—his mouth is really venomous.
Shi Jin snorted and carelessly flicked the photo on the table. “So you tried your best to sow discord, hoping I wouldn’t get too close to Shi Weichong? Oh, no, I worded that wrong—I made it sound like you were trying to help me, but that couldn’t have been your intentions, since I know you don’t have any goodwill towards this ‘third-rate imitation’.”
Xu Chuan’s eyes were fixed on Shi Jin’s hand that was playing with the photograph, his own slowly clenching into fists.
“Let’s see, you said something like this back then: ‘Ridiculous, you two sitting together like good brothers, what a joke’. In fact, you told me to run because you didn’t want to see me, who looked so similar to Mr. Jian, sitting with Shi Weichong, who looks so similar to my dad. It made you very uncomfortable, didn’t it? Xu Chuan, you were jealous that between the two of you, Mr. Jian obviously cared more for my dad than for you.”
“He didn’t deserve it!” Xu Chuan suddenly sprang to his feet and reached out, trying to grab the face-down photo on the table. Reacting faster, Shi Jin picked it up and flipped it around in his fingers, revealing it.
The silhouette of the fat, teenage Jian Jinwen was reflected in Xu Chuan’s eyes.
The lawyer’s movements froze abruptly. Shi Jin took the opportunity to get up and knock on the door to the visitation room; when the prison guard opened it, he said, “Please cuff him, he wanted to attack me.”
The guard came in and fulfilled his request, going about it none-too-gently.
Being restrained again, Xu Chuan’s expression turned ugly. His gaze never moved away from the photo in Shi Jin’s hand.
Shi Jin waited until the man was handcuffed, then sat back in his chair. He extended his hand and took back the picture of the child Jian Jinwen that had been lying in front of the lawyer, turned it face down again, and put it next to the teenage Jian Jinwen’s photo. “My father really doesn’t deserve to sit next to Mr. Jian, but you don’t deserve to have his picture either. Xu Chuan, think straight—annoy me and you’ll get nothing.”
Xu Chuan struggled to keep the picture, but it was useless—he could only watch Shi Jin take it away. The appearance of the teenage Jian Jinwen in the photo, which he had only managed to take a glance at, emerged in his mind. After a long standoff, he finally said, “Yes, I don’t deserve it… At first, I approached Jinwen with hidden disdain and derision. Jinwen must have noticed that, so he didn’t want to tell me too much about the past and always kept a polite distance from me… I don’t deserve it, but Shi Xingrui, may he burn in hell, deserves it a thousand times less than me! He failed Jinwen, hurt Jinwen—he was supposed to suffer a lifetime of agonizing regret, never obtaining his heart’s desire, the hope turning to dust every time! Why! Why were you born! Because of you, he got his wish, even if you’re a fake! You destroyed everything!”
Shi Jin watched him spit anger and malice. “So this is why you and Xu Jie colluded to harm me?” he asked, tapping the photos. “Just because my birth satisfied Shi Xingrui’s sick chase? Because I have this face? You had no place to vent your pent-up feelings, so you decided to vent them on an innocent child? You’re a weak, despicable coward. Xu Chuan, did Mr. Jian know how twisted and vicious you really are?”
Xu Chuan froze as if he’d been slapped, his expression going stiff. His excited emotions quickly cooled and he slumped in his chair, head hanging.
“I don’t have time to waste on this meaningless jostling,” Shi Jin said coldly. “Tell me what I want to know or the moment I return to B City, I’ll go visit Mr. Jian’s adoptive father, accompany him to Mr. Jian’s grave, and have a good talk with them about what you did back then and what you did now.”
“No! Don’t disturb them! I promised Jinwen I would take care of his family!” Xu Chuan immediately looked up with a trace of panic on his face, his emotions collapsing once more.
“In terms of blood relationship, I should also be regarded as Mr. Jian’s family,” Shi Jin countered.
Xu Chuan stopped speaking, glanced at him, and quickly looked away. After a moment of silence, he said, “Give me ten minutes, then I’ll tell you everything.”
Without a word, Shi Jin got up, opened the door, and went out, leaving the photos on the table as if by accident.
Xu Chuan looked at the pictures; they were so close, just in front of him, yet still out of his reach. The emotions in his eyes flickered like the flame of a candle, until they finally burnt out and gave way to darkness.
Shi Jin chatted with Gua Two outside for a while. Ten minutes later, he pushed open the door, walked in the visitation room, and sat down again, covering the photos with the arms he put on the table.
Xu Chuan, who had regained his composure, motioned to him with his cuffed hands: “Get these off me.”
There was no need to make things difficult for him at this point, so Shi Jin got up and called in the prison guard.
The situation seemed to return to the beginning, with the two of them sitting across the table from each other, each with a glass of water in front of them. This time, however, the atmosphere was much less confrontational than it had been before.
“The person who wanted to harm you was Xu Jie… yes, and me,” Xu Chuan began, picking up the glass and holding it in front of himself, not looking at Shi Jin. He continued flatly, “You said you want to know the truth about what happened in the past. All right, I’ll tell you everything, I just hope that no matter what you hear, you won’t disturb Jinwen’s sleep.”
“Yes, I promise you,” Shi Jin responded.
Xu Chuan glanced at him, then bowed his head and took a sip of water. “I believe you. You’re different from the other people in your family… I’ve known that for a long time.”
As Shi Jin speculated, Xu Chuan approached Jian Jinwen under Shi Xingrui’s instructions. Xu Chuan was willing to take up the job because of curiosity and a generous reward, but he never expected that this moment of curiosity would influence his whole life.
Jian Jinwen really was a good, kind person. After only a year, Xu Chuan truly regarded him as a friend, and gradually learned about the entanglement between him and Shi Xingrui.
It wasn’t as if the current Xu Chuan was a good person, but at that time, he was much more utilitarian and regarded conscience as something completely unnecessary, and his oppressed family life made him thirst for success. Therefore, although he sympathized with Jian Jinwen who had been kept in the dark about everything, he still chose his own interests—he didn’t tell Jian Jinwen the truth and even let Shi Xingrui contact the young man using his name.
Sometimes, feelings changed so imperceptibly that even the person himself wouldn’t be aware of it. By the time Xu Chuan discovered that his feelings for Jian Jinwen had changed, Jian Jinwen was running out of time. Probably knowing that he wouldn’t live much longer, Jian Jinwen sought out Xu Chuan and told him something that nearly made the lawyer’s heart stop.
“He said, ‘I know everything’.” Xu Chuan squeezed the glass of water tight in his hand, and his voice was no longer calm. “I didn’t dare to ask him what it was that he knew, I just turned and ran away. When I came back the next day, after finally mustering up the courage to talk to him, the doctor said that he had passed away. You know, I went to the hospital at eight o’clock in the morning, and his heart stopped beating at seven o’clock. I missed him barely by an hour, an hour… I failed to see him for the last time, and I could no longer ask him what he knew.”
Shi Jin’s eyebrows knitted—it wasn’t really a comfortable story to listen to.
“He must’ve realized that he was dying and so wanted to talk to me, but I ran away.” Xu Chuan took a deep breath to steady his voice and continued, “I missed the chance to say goodbye to Jinwen, but Shi Xingrui didn’t—Jinwen wrote him a farewell letter. Why? Why Shi Xingrui? In the letter, Jinwen wrote that he hoped that Shi Xingrui could get rid of the shadow of the past and live happily, but did Shi Xingrui deserve it? He couldn’t even admit that he loved Jinwen—he should live in pain for the rest of his life!”
Xu Chuan’s expression turned cruel all of a sudden. “I didn’t give the letter to Shi Xingrui. I burned it,” he said, staring at the glass in his hand with a cold gaze. “Not long after that, Xu Jie’s parents heard from who-knows-where that I was doing well. They contacted my parents, hoping that I would help Xu Jie get a better job.”
Knowing that the main point was coming, Shi Jin’s eyes flashed and his face became serious.
“I didn’t want to help. That group of garbage used to bully and take advantage of my parents, and they lived a life thousand times better than my parents, yet they had the cheek to run to them and ask for a favor?” the lawyer sneered, his mind thoroughly pulled into the past. “But in the end, I did help them—my dad’s heart was too soft and I was unable to dissuade him.”
Although Xu Chuan agreed to get Xu Jie a job, he wasn’t going to put much effort into it—he just planned to find an opening in some random company, with pay high enough to earn a living, and get the matter over with. However, Xu Jie had purposefully sent her résumé to Ruixing and found an opportunity to talk with Shi Xingrui, then mentioned that Xu Chuan was her brother.
Shi Xingrui had just lost Jian Jinwen at that time; psychologically, he was very dependent on Xu Chuan, a friend who shared Jian Jinwen’s memory with him. When he heard that Xu Jie was Xu Chuan’s relative, he hired Xu Jie as his assistant straight away.
Shi Jin was surprised to hear this. So Shi Xingrui was aware of the relationship between Xu Jie and Xu Chuan? Later, when he became guarded against Xu Chuan, was it because of this?
“I was very angry at the time—I understood that Xu Jie had long seen Ruixing’s potential and took a fancy to it, and wanted to step on me as a springboard to enter the top level of Ruixing’s management. I found Shi Xingrui and told him that I had a bad relationship with Xu Jie, hoping that he would dismiss her or at least not let her hold such an important position. However, he said that when running a company, one couldn’t be influenced by personal feelings—Xu Jie was capable enough, so she could stay.” Xu Chuan sneered and mocked, “It was fine when he acted on personal feelings, it wasn’t fine if I did—that bastard was the very definition of double standards.”
Looking at his expression, Shi Jin guessed that this was the proverbial final straw that broke the camel’s back, and the point at which Xu Chuan became completely resentful of Shi Xingrui.
“In the end, Xu Jie became Shi Xingrui’s assistant. She did indeed have the ability, but it was vastly exceeded by her ambition—she wanted not only to jump on the Ruixing ship, but also to become the wife of Ruixing’s president.” The smile on Xu Chuan’s face became malicious and full of meaning. “She came to me for help, saying that she wanted to replace the person in Shi Xingrui’s heart. I didn’t want to see Shi Xingrui pretend to be oh-so-high-minded and noble after all the things he’d done, so I gave her a hand.”
Shi Jin looked at him with a frown.
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“Xu Jie found a chance to climb into Shi Xingrui’s bed at the time when she was most likely to get pregnant. Of course, Shi Xingrui didn’t want to take responsibility, but how could I let him? I even talked about Jinwen, persuading him to move on and not let Jinwen worry about him in the afterlife. Shi Xingrui felt conflicted, but in the end, he also wanted to free himself from the endless pain of loss, so he followed my advice and decided to give it a try with Xu Jie.”
This revelation dumbfounded Shi Jin—it turned out that it was Xu Jie who initiated things, not Shi Xingrui, and Xu Chuan was her accomplice. No wonder that among all Shi Xingrui’s women, she was the only one who didn’t bear even a trace of similarity to Jian Jinwen; she wasn’t a replacement at all. Rather, at that time, the idea of finding a replacement hadn’t even crossed Shi Xingrui’s mind.
“Wasn’t it great? Now that Shi Xingrui had a woman and a child, he had lost any right to miss or even think about Jinwen.” Xu Chuan looked up at Shi Jin, his lips curled in a strange, smug smile, but it soon faded and his expression became dark again. “But I didn’t expect Xu Jie to be so useless that she wouldn’t be able to handle Shi Xingrui at all. Not only could she not convince him to marry her but also, because of some damn postpartum depression, she told him that her sleeping with him back then was all just a part of our scheme.”
Shi Jin’s frown deepened. He recalled that it was from then on that Shi Xingrui began to go mad looking for a surrogate to bear his child, and guessed that the last dregs of conscience in his heart disappeared along with the discovery of both his closest friend’s betrayal and his “new beginning” turning out to be a sham.
“Shi Xingrui went completely crazy. He guessed my feelings for Jinwen and realized his betrayal of his feelings for Jinwen, threw Xu Jie and her child out of his house, and kicked me out of Ruixing’s management.” Xu Chuan’s voice became calm again, and even gained a trace of boredom. “He probably checked the situation between mine and Xu Jie families, and found that they were actually in conflict. He resented both of us, so this decision likely made him gnash his teeth, but he actually gave some support to Xu Jie’s family. He did that because he knew that helping the people I hated become successful would be the greatest revenge on me. He still left me by his side; he let me witness Ruixing take off step by step, watching from the sidelines, unable to participate in its rise. He was arrogant and crazy, but he did have the ability. I had no choice but to stay and work for him wholeheartedly because I needed to contain Xu Jie, who had ruined my career. I could never let her achieve her dream—as long as I breathed, she would never gain the status of being the wife of the president of Ruixing!”
“You’re all crazy.” Shi Jin shook his head, unable to understand their thoughts.
At this, Xu Chuan chuckled. “Crazy? It’s good to be crazy; madmen don’t care about other people’s pain and can find the best way to step on a sore spot. Just look at Xu Jie—Shi Xingrui refused to officially acknowledge her until the day he died; bah, he never even admitted to having a relationship with her. It was only after his death that she was able to play the prestigious ‘legitimate wife’. How ridiculous—don’t you think it’s funny too?”
Shi Jin kept silent. He had to admit that both Shi Xingrui and Xu Chuan’s ways of handling things were plenty ruthless.
“Xu Jie not only wanted to be the wife of Ruixing’s president—she wanted to be his only woman who gave birth to his only child.” Xu Chuan’s voice filled with malice again. “Like I said earlier, Shi Xingrui had gone mad, truly mad, and it’s easy for a madman to do something a sane person would never do. I found a woman whose face shape was similar to Jinwen’s, but, to make things more fun, her facial features were not like Jinwen’s at all, so using her wouldn’t tarnish Jinwen’s memory. Then, I left a flyer advertising the woman’s dance performance on Shi Xingrui’s desk.”
Shocked, Shi Jin looked at Xu Chuan in disbelief. “You actually…” He’d always thought that Shi Xingrui began to look for substitutes on his own initiative, but now it seemed it was due to Xu Chuan’s intentional instigation.
“Me? Me what? If Shi Xingrui’s feelings for Jinwen were firm enough, he wouldn’t have been tempted at all,” the lawyer responded, ice-cold. Abruptly lowering his head as if to avoid Shi Jin’s gaze, he said, “But Shi Xingrui was more rational than I thought. Instead of rushing to find the woman, he investigated her first. When he was ready, he ‘met her by chance’ and made her a deal: he wanted to have a child with her, and that child had to be a son. I have to admit, I couldn’t match his degree of insanity—I just wanted him to be trapped in the pursuit of a mirage, but he decided to create a child that looked exactly like Jinwen. But how could that be possible? I quietly watched him become more and more crazy, watched him find one woman after another, watched Xu Jie mad with fury but clenching her teeth and keeping quiet so as not to lose all the benefits. At first, I was pleased that my revenge was successful, but soon, only emptiness was left in my heart.”
Xu Chuan’s voice dropped. “Several years later, Shi Xingrui suddenly stopped this madness. I thought it was about time—four women and four children were already enough to drive Xu Jie crazy, and I was also getting kind of tired… If only everything had really stopped there. Shi Xingrui would cultivate his sons, then I’d help him pick one that wasn’t Shi Weichong to become his heir and Ruixing’s successor, completing my revenge on Xu Jie… But then your mother appeared.”
Shi Jin’s grip tightened around the glass in his hand involuntarily.
“She was so much like Jinwen—her appearance, temperament, even the way she spoke, and especially her kind, gentle character.” Xu Chuan covered his face with one hand, and his voice turned dangerous: “It was as if Shi Xingrui was reborn. His whole person was radiant; I just had to look at him to know that he was truly happy. He seemed to care for nothing except for your mother anymore. He planned to marry her, and looked forward to his new life.”
“What did you do?” Shi Jin couldn’t help but ask.
“What did I do… I didn’t do anything, it was Xu Jie who did.” Xu Chuan looked up at Shi Jin all of a sudden, his smile a mix of mockery and unholy joy. “Xu Jie finally knew that she would never win against a dead person, and she also couldn’t win against this perfect substitute. She was already getting on in years; when facing Yun Jin, whose best years were still ahead of her, she was naturally burning with jealousy. She watched on as Shi Xingrui pampered Yun Jin as if he wished to gave her the world, then as Yun Jin gave birth to you, looking forward to the day when he abandoned the two of you like he did the others, but she was destined to be disappointed—for Shi Xingrui, Yun Jin was different, and you were different as well.”
Shi Jin’s heart beat faster and faster. He realized that there must have been something important that he overlooked. “What did she do? What the hell did she do!”
“Innocent and kind people are the easiest to harm,” Xu Chuan said softly, a kind of distorted excitement visible on his face. “Shi Xingrui built your mother a beautiful castle, completely protecting her from reality, but he also deceived her too miserably—as long as you took out a few bricks, all the lies and deception would come crashing down on her head. Xu Jie used to suffer from postpartum depression, so she knew that women after childbirth were very vulnerable, and she also knew what they were most afraid of. Yun Jin was living in a lie, and Xu Jie simply poked a hole in it: her Prince Charming wasn’t a prince at all, but Bluebeard with his many wives. Then bang!, everything fell apart, and the naive princess who couldn’t stand the reality chose to end her life.”
When Shi Jin heard this, he felt dizzy, but also as if a huge fire burst out in his heart, burning away his self-control and reason. He dashed around the table and grabbed Xu Chuan’s collar, screaming, “Are you even human?! Wasn’t your grudge against Shi Xingrui?! Because of your selfish desires, you harmed so many innocent people! My mother wasn’t even twenty yet, and you forced her to death! You fucking psychopaths!”
Panicked, Xiao Si pacified, < JinJin, calm down, just take a deep breath. >
“Shi Jin!” Gua Two, who had been waiting outside, immediately threw open the door and rushed in. Giving Xu Chuan a cold glare, he hugged Shi Jin from behind and dragged him out of the visitation room, shutting the door behind them.
Once he was outside, Shi Jin’s fevered head quickly cooled. He pressed a hand against his forehead, took a few deep breaths, and said, “I’m sorry, I lost it for a moment.”
He’d prepared himself mentally, suspecting that whatever he heard today, it wouldn’t be anything pleasant, but after knowing that even Yun Jin’s death wasn’t as simple as he’d thought, it seemed to get to him on a personal level, and he couldn’t help but be angry at all the harm done to the innocent who shouldn’t have been involved at all.
It was enough to make one give in to despair—why couldn’t good people have a good ending?
“Don’t apologize.” Seeing his tormented expression, Gua Two frowned, then reached out and rubbed his hair. “The ones who should apologize and pay the price for their crimes are the scumbags who commited them.”
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