Chapter 70 Coral Tree

It was only after Poker-Face said this that I realized that A Ning’s expression was lifeless and her eyes were very sluggish. It was quite different from how lively she was before. She was currently being held to the ground by Poker-Face but she wasn’t struggling, talking, or even looking at us, as if this whole situation had nothing to do with her.

Fatty eyed her strangely before saying, “It is a little fucking weird. She didn’t even respond when I was cursing her out just now. Normally, she would’ve kicked me as soon as I got a few words out.”

I knew that his hands were blackened so I asked him, “Did you hit her too hard just now? Look, she can’t even speak. I bet it’s because you hit her too hard and knocked her senseless.”

Fatty immediately became angry and said, “Bastard, stop talking nonsense! Would I treat a lady like that? I only grabbed her legs just now! And I did it very gently without leaving a single mark! If you don’t believe me, ask Little Brother.”

Poker-Face told us to stop arguing and said, “Don’t worry, she’s fine but her mind is muddled. She might just be in shock.” He waved his hand in front of her face and snapped his fingers but A Ning didn’t react at all.

Fatty scratched his head and thought for a moment before saying, “Maybe this bitch saw something and was scared senseless?”

“This woman is ruthless and highly skilled,” I argued. “You saw how she treated me earlier. How could such a person be scared senseless? Don’t be fooled by her. She’s probably just faking it.”

Fatty became suspicious when he heard this and said, “You’re right. Women are cruel and cunning. We need to be careful. Should we give her a few slaps and see how she reacts? This woman is very stubborn so maybe a few slaps will get her to drop the innocent heroine act and—”

I didn’t know where he was going with this but I decided to interrupt him, “Stop, you’ve watched too many fucking revolutionary films. Are you trying to impersonate a Kuomintang spy(1) or something? Just look at her. Do you really think you can hit her when she’s in this state?”

Fatty raised his big hand and tried to slap A Ning’s small face twice but found that he really couldn’t do it. Feeling discouraged, he said, “Unfortunately, this fat master has never hit a woman before. What the fuck do you think we should do then?”

I hadn’t spent enough time with her to tell whether she was faking it or not, so I said to him, “It’s impossible to tell right now. I think we should tie her up and take her out of here first. When the time comes, we’ll call the police and let them handle this matter.”

Fatty became angry again, “Are you fucking stupid or just pretending to be? Have you forgotten that the three of us are here grave robbing? Do you know what grave robbing means? Give her to the police… did you hit your head and become stupid or something?”

I was really confused at first, but when Fatty said this, I suddenly wanted to smack myself. Shit, it seemed my mind hadn’t adjusted to the fact that I was a grave robber; I was still thinking of myself as the small boss of an antique store. I hurriedly said to Fatty, “I’ve only robbed tombs a couple of times. Don’t expect the impossible from me! At heart, I’m still a law-abiding citizen who’s used to going to the police when something bad happens. I blurted that out without thinking so just act like I didn’t say anything. We’ll think of something when the time comes.”

Fatty waved his hand and said, “Forget it, I don’t think you have any good ideas. Let’s see what Little Brother has to say. If we have to rely on you, it’ll be too late.”

I didn’t lose my temper but glanced at Poker-Face instead. He was shining his flashlight into A Ning’s eyes, but then he turned to us and said, “Don’t argue. Her pupils are dilated and her reactions are slow, which means that her condition is much more serious than ‘scared senseless’. It’s not something that can be faked.”

He seemed very certain, and there was no reason to doubt him so I simply asked, “Can you tell what caused it?”

Poker-Face shook his head and said, “I only know a little bit about it from what I can remember of my own medical exam. If you want to know more, there’s nothing we can do short of sending her to a hospital.”

I sighed, remembering how spirited and lively this woman was before. “Well, since we can’t figure out what’s wrong with her in a short amount of time, I vote we stop thinking about it and just take her out first,” I said to him.

Neither of them had any problems with this proposal, and once we all agreed on it, Fatty said to Poker-Face, “Let’s do this—this place is creepy so we shouldn’t linger here but we can at least look around first. If there’s nothing of note, we’ll leave quickly.”

I had already forgotten where we were, but when he said this, it all came back to me and I immediately felt a chill run up my spine. I wanted to leave right away, but I knew that it was pointless to suggest it since they both had their own purposes for being here. In the end, I had no other choice but to suck it up and nod in agreement.

Fatty immediately turned around and pointed his flashlight into the depths of the passage. I followed the light and saw that the hole actually wasn’t very long and came to an end after about a dozen steps. But the flashlight wasn’t strong enough to illuminate that far so we could only see a vague outline.

My eyes weren’t as good as Fatty’s so I couldn’t see if there was anything there, but I was hoping that Fatty wouldn’t see anything either. I wanted him to give up so that we could get out of here as soon as possible; I couldn’t stay in this place for another minute.

Fatty took a closer look and suddenly frowned as if he saw something. I followed the direction of his gaze but I couldn’t see anything. Then he asked us softly, “Guys, guys, do you see that? There, in the deepest part. Is that a tree?”

I snorted, “How can there be a tree in this ancient tomb? There’s no sunlight here, nor anyone to water it. If there was a tree, it would have rotted long ago.”

Fatty continued looking at it for a long time, but he must not have felt certain about it because he stubbornly pointed his finger towards it and motioned for me to take a closer look. I had no other choice but to comply, but I really couldn’t see anything clearly. I strained my eyes but could only vaguely make out something that looked like branches. The silhouette was very familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen it before. “I can’t see it clearly but it’s definitely not a tree,” I eventually said to him.

Fatty took another look before saying stubbornly, “It looks like a tree to me, but it’s shining with a golden light. If you don’t believe me, let’s go and take a closer look.”

I immediately became angry—it was obvious that he had an ulterior motive—and said to him, “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to! Even if there is a golden tree in there, do you think you can carry it out?”

Fatty saw that I had caught onto his scheme, but he didn’t back down, “We won’t know if it’s something we can carry out until we see what it is. Maybe there are some small pieces on the side or something. It would’ve been fine if we hadn’t come in here, but now that we have come in and seen something good, we should check it out! Besides, we’ve come this far without anything happening. There’s nothing to be afraid of, right?”

I was annoyed, but there was nothing I could do about it. After all, I was very familiar with Fatty’s logic by this point—after looking around and examining everything, wipe the place clean. This guy was simply a devil incarnate; whoever met him was bound to be unlucky.

I was just about to ridicule him when I saw Poker-Face gesture at us to stop talking. “Follow me,” he whispered to us. “Don’t fall behind.” Then he walked straight into the darkness without looking back.

Fatty was overjoyed. He picked up A Ning, put her on his back, and then followed after him. I thought it was strange, but Poker-Face was moving so quickly that I didn’t have time to think about it carefully, so I limped after them.

The part of the passage we had been standing at just now appeared to be the middle, so Poker-Face’s fast pace meant that we soon reached the so-called tree at the end. We were now in the innermost part of the brick hole. Poker-Face raised his hand and shined his flashlight at the “tree”, revealing its true form.

It was a huge piece of white coral that was as tall as a person and had twelve “branches” sprouting from its trunk. Its shape really did look like that of a tree. It had been skillfully carved, but it was made from ordinary coral which wasn’t very rare or valuable.

The coral had been planted in a huge porcelain basin with countless pebbles surrounding its trunk and many small golden bells hanging from its branches. The golden light Fatty had seen earlier must have been the beams from our flashlights reflecting off of these bells. But the bells definitely weren’t made of gold because there was a layer of patina(2) in their cracks. I figured the base material was probably brass that had been gilded, which was how they had maintained their current luster.

Fatty was very disappointed that he didn’t see a golden tree, but he still refused to give up. He swung his flashlight around the area and asked me, “Young Wu, do you think this coral is worth anything?”

I had actually done some research on this kind of thing before, but when I remembered how he had been acting just now, I decided to tease him a bit, “Sorry to burst your bubble, but with this quality, the best market price you can get is eight yuan per kilogram.”

Fatty was skeptical after hearing this, but when he asked Poker-Face and received a nod in response, he suddenly became depressed, “Fuck, I thought I’d finally become rich this time but all I got was fucking nothing.”

I chuckled and said, “Fatty, don’t be discouraged. Listen, the coral might be worthless but the bells hanging on it are good.”

Fatty didn’t believe me and said, “I see that smirk on your face. Don’t be making shit up. I’ve taken plenty of these kinds of broken bells from tombs before, but they’re only worth about a thousand. In what world do you think they’re valuable?”

“With your business mind, of course you can’t see it,” I said to him. “To tell you the truth, I can’t estimate the specific value, but it’s definitely worth more than the same weight in gold. Look at the patterns on these bells. They’re older than the Ming Dynasty and were even considered antiques at that time. Do you see what I mean?”

Fatty was stunned by my words and didn’t know whether to believe them or not, but I didn’t care. I just remained silent and happily watched him flounder. In fact, I wasn’t sure what these bells’ origin was. Such things were usually unpopular in the antique business whereas porcelain and pottery were generally the bestsellers. Metal objects required special storage conditions since they would rust, and big museums were the only ones that could afford such technologies. No matter how rich someone’s family was, they wouldn’t be willing to squander their money on such a thing. Moreover, bells were a relatively complex metalware that consisted of many small parts. It was very expensive to keep them well preserved and complete.

Fatty pondered over it for a while but still didn’t believe me. In the end, he decided to pluck one off of the branches and have a look at it. But before he could, Poker-Face immediately grabbed him and said, “Don’t move.”

Fatty already had one foot placed on the basin full of pebbles but was immediately pulled back by Poker-Face’s actions. Surprised, he asked what was going on but Poker-Face ignored him and asked me, “Do you remember seeing this kind of bell somewhere before?”

<Chapter 69><Table of Contents><Chapter 71>


TN Notes:

(1) The Kuomintang (aka the Nationalist Party of China or the Chinese Nationalist Party) is a major political party in the Republic of China throughout its historical periods in both the Chinese mainland as well as Taiwan. After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 which overthrew the Qin Dynasty, the Chinese National Party led an armed struggle against the Communist Party of China. They massacred people and used secret police and criminals to deal with political rivals. The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan in December 1949, fleeing the Communist People’s Liberation Army. Info here.  

(2) A green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period. Info/pics here.

4 thoughts on “Chapter 70 Coral Tree

  1. The bells, the bells…

    (Honestly, Pangzi as a younger man seems a bit conflicted? He uses a lot of aggressive language – like how he’s threatening to hit A-Ning right now (but can’t do it), and in the dramas at least he’s obnoxious about Xie Yuchen’s clothing choices when they meet… but also, he really leans into the bit when they’re looking at the mirror and pretending to comb their hair, and will eventually be the proud owner of a set of Hello Kitty t-shirts. I dunno. It feels like there’s a quiet bit of characterisation slipped in between all the tomb-raiding and the Zhang Qiling Drama, where Pangzi slowly loses his fear of not being considered Acceptably Masculine. Or something.)


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