Chapter 103 A Man of Honor
Li Yundong stalked into the gazebo once again, his gaze fixed upon Secretary Liu.
"Ah... Now you're ready to talk, young man..." Secretary Liu crossed his arms in front of his chest, then walked towards a granite table near the corner of the gazebo.
"This is an insult, sir," Li Yundong said, stopping beside the granite table. Secretary Liu placed his leather briefcase on the granite and begun signing the check.
"An insult?" Secretary Liu said, slipping his pen into his pocket. He smirked. "I'm sure you'll change your mind once you get your hands on this." He waved the check in front of Li Yundong's face. Li Yundong took the check and studied it for a moment.
"Don't worry," Secretary Liu said. "The money is clean. Take it and go on your merry way. Leave, and stay out of Zhou Qin's life. That's the deal."
Li Yundong raised his gaze from the check, which fluttered slightly in the afternoon breeze. All of a sudden, Li Yundong began chuckling.
Secretary Liu's expression darkened. "What's so funny, young man?"
Li Yundong took a deep breath and stifled the last of his laughter. Li Yundong waved his hand nonchalantly. "It's nothing. I just realized a few things, that's all."
A frown marred Secretary Liu's features. "What things?"
Li Yundong stared at Secretary Liu with contempt. "That there are really two kinds of rich people in this world."
"What's your point, young man?" There was an impatient edge to Secretary Liu's voice.
Li Yundong folded the check in half. "The first kind put their money and resources to good use. They are humble and respectful. Instead of flaunting their wealth, they prefer to lead low-key lifestyles. Instead of spending their resources mindlessly, they rather build and expand their resources. And in case you're wondering, your boss's daughter has the potential to be the first type." Li Yundong folded the check again. "Then comes the second type, who think they can rule over the world just because they're rich. They try to buy their way out of everything, putting a price tag on anything they could think of, including things that cannot be measure by monetary means. They stomp on the poor and treat people like trash. And they use their wealth to manipulate people like puppets."
Li Yundong's eyes flashed defiantly. He took a step forward and waved the folded check in front of Secretary Liu's face. Then, he tore up check and flung the pieces at Secretary Liu's face. "Guess what? I don't want your stupid money."
"Y- You foolish and insolent..." Secretary Liu sputtered.
Li Yundong took a step forward, forcing Secretary Liu to step back. "I'm going to say this one last time, Mr. Secretary. Zhou Qin and I are friends. Friends. Nothing more, nothing less. There is only one woman that I'm interested in, and her name is Su Chan. I suggest you remember that. Also, Zhou Qin is a person with thoughts and feelings, not just some puppet or pawn you can toss around at your whim. She has every right to choose her own romantic partner or pursue anyone she's interested in, and there is nothing you, I, or anyone else can say about it! This little game you're playing here?" Li Yundong poked his finger into Secretary Liu's chest, causing the latter to stumble back a step. "This is a violation of her rights, not to mention a complete insult!" Li Yundong glared at Secretary Liu. "You've disrespected me. You've disrespected Zhou Qin. And you've disrespected my girlfriend, Su Chan!"
Secretary Liu studied Li Yundong for a long while, then he burst into laughter. "Oh, I see! This is an act! This is all just an act to gain Zhou Qin's trust!"
Li Yundong's eyes flashed in anger. "Do I look like I'm acting!"
Secretary Liu flinched at Li Yundong's sharp tone. He averted his gaze; those eyes were far too intense. It felt like his insides would be ripped apart if he held Li Yundong's gaze for even a second longer.
"A man who refuses to fight for Zhou Qin?" Secretary Liu snorted. "I must say you're the first one." Secretary Liu regarded Li Yundong curiously. "I wonder what your type is."
Li Yundong sneered. "Snobs like you wouldn't understand even if I tell you."
Secretary Liu laughed. "I doubt there is a woman in this city who's better than Zhou Qin in terms of—"
"Not everything is about status, you mindless retard!" Li Yundong said sharply. "My type of girl has to be willing to stick with me through thick and thin!" Li Yundong softened his tone. "When everyone else saw me as a pathetic loser, Su Chan was the only person who saw value in me. When times were tough, she stuck by my side and never abandoned me." Li Yundong's sharp gaze pierced through Secretary Liu. "Hell would freeze over first before I give her up for someone else!"
Secretary Liu stared at Li Yundong in shock. After a while, he recovered. "I see... So you're a romantic, then."
Li Yundong snorted. "Say whatever you want, I don't care. I just want to prove that she'd made the right choice in me."
Secretary Liu smoothed out his suit jacket, satisfied with the discussion. "Alright then. I suppose we have an understanding." Secretary Liu offered a handshake, which Li Yundong blatantly ignored. Secretary Liu lowered his hand back down and cleared his throat. "Well, since you won't take the money, then how about this. I'll arrange for you to be transferred to a new university. A much better one, of course—"
Li Yundong bristled. "I'm sorry? A transfer?"
"And when you graduate, I'll make sure that you get a well-paid job. You can settle down with your girlfriend and then have kids. Well, basically the whole white picket fence thing, you know what I mean. How about that, eh? Now just tell me when would be a convenient time for you to leave, and I'll make the necessary arrangements right away—"
Li Yundong burst into laughter, which lasted for a full minute. When he finally stopped laughing, Li Yundong looked at Secretary Liu coolly. "Sorry to burst your bubble or step on your moment, but I never agreed to leave."
Secretary Liu flushed red. "That won't do! Either you take the money and leave, or you go with the latter option. Either way, you have to leave and stay out of Zhou Qin's life."
Li Yundong chuckled darkly. "You people don't get it do you..." Li Yundong eyes flashed in anger. "Stop trying to control other people's lives by throwing your money around, damn it!" Li Yundong took a deep breath. "Look. I'm staying here. And that's final. I'm not going anywhere just because you tell me to."
Secretary Liu was seething at that point. "I'm warning you, boy... Don't force us to take things to the next level."
Li Yundong stepped into Secretary Liu's personal space, forcing Secretary Liu to back away until his legs hit the granite table. "Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?"
Secretary Liu tried to maintain his bravado, though his efforts were failing. "Y- You leave us no ch- choice..."
"You're messing with the wrong guy, pal."
Secretary Liu's fear instantly turned into anger. "You insolent brat! You're the one doesn't know who you're dealing with! Do you know who Deputy Governor Zhou is? You're out of your depth, kid!"
The granite table shattered into pieces when Li Yundong's palm connected with its surface. Secretary Liu jumped back in fright.
"My name is Li Yundong and I'm not afraid of you," Li Yundong said coldly.
Secretary Liu scrambled back a few steps, his lips trembling in fear as he stared down at the ruined granite table.
"Look at me when I'm talking to you!"
Secretary Liu's gaze snapped up and met Li Yundong's glare. Secretary Liu gulped.
Li Yundong began advancing towards Secretary Liu. "I want you give your boss a message. Stay the hell away from my life! And if I find out after this that you threatened my friends or the people I care about?" Li Yundong glanced down pointedly at the granite pieces. "Consider this my warning."
Secretary Liu followed Li Yundong's gaze and he had to suppress a shiver at what he saw.
Li Yundong backed away a step, then turned around. He didn't move. When Li Yundong spoke seconds later, his back was still turned to Secretary Liu. "You think money can buy everything." Li Yundong laughed derisively. "But you're wrong." Li Yundong turned around to face Secretary Liu. "Inner peace. Wisdom. Strength of character. Virtue. Respect." There was a pregnant pause. "Honor. Those are the things you can't buy."
Secretary Liu snorted. "Those are just pretty words without practical value." He smirked. "Money itself isn't the issue. The amount is."
Li Yundong studied Secretary Liu for a moment. Every second passed bolstered Secretary Liu's confidence, making him think that he had won the argument. Suddenly, Li Yundong kicked up a piece of granite from the deck. When the granite landed in his palm, he squeezed it with all his strength, crushing it into tiny rubbles. When Li Yundong opened his palm, the rubbles trickled onto the deck.
Li Yundong regarded Secretary Liu coldly. "Use your stupid money and put that piece of rock back together. I'd love to see you try."
Li Yundong walked away from the gazebo, leaving a speechless Secretary Liu behind.
"Is this your so-called proof, father?" Zhou Qin smirked.
Zhou Keqiang slid the phone back into his pocket and shrugged. "Well, I suppose things didn't turn out that badly."
Zhou Qin frowned. "Even when you've just been proven wrong?"
"So? I still consider what I learned today good news. The man clearly isn't interested in you beyond friendship. In fact, he's head over heels for someone else! I suggest you stop throwing yourself at him and focus on your own engagement."
Zhou Qin stared at her father. For the first time in her life, she pitied the man that was Zhou Keqiang, the man who had led such a miserable and shallow existence. Zhou Qin shook her head. "You really don't get it do you, father? You really are incapable of seeing the value in people other than their social status and wealth." Her father didn't answer, so Zhou Qin kept talking. "I'm not going to lie. I have feelings for Li Yundong. Because he has qualities that no other man possesses."
Zhou Keqiang sneered. "And what's that? The ability to brag and spout useless threats? Oh, and what else? Anger issues?" Zhou Keqiang snorted. "What a joke." Zhou Keqiang glanced at her. "And you're naive to fall for his charms."
Zhou Qin shook her head and sighed. What a blind and pitiful man you are, father... Nobody other than yourself can save you from your fruitless obsession with power. "You're the one who's naive, father. You think you can control everything. You think you can rule over the world. But you're wrong. Don't you see how futile your efforts are? How many government officials are there with higher ranks than you? More than you can count! Do you really think you can climb your way to the top? Even if you did, what then? You're still just a human. A mortal. No matter how much power you have, you can never surpass God." Zhou Qin snorted. "You might scorn or mock Li Yundong for being a romantic or a sap, but his faithfulness and loyalty to Su Chan is exactly what I like about him. For years, I've been sought after by philanderers, by womanizers who saw women as nothing more than trophies." Zhou Qin stared intently at her father. "Not him, father. Not him. I've been watching him. I won't lie… I had my doubts about him before, but now I'm absolutely sure that Li Yundong is an honorable man. And I want an honorable man in my life! Can't you see that, father? Shouldn't you be happy for me that I've finally met a good man? That I'm willing to give my heart to an honorable man?"
Her father was looking at anywhere but her. Zhou Qin suppressed the disappointment she felt in her stomach and forced herself to keep talking. If there was a chance she could convince her father to set her free, it would be now.
Zhou Qin took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "If I marry He Shao... I know I'd be miserable for the rest of my life." Zhou Qin shook her head. "Fine. Forget about my happiness for a moment. Even if our families are related by marriage, so what? Without genuine affection and respect between two families, the marriage means nothing. At the end of the day, we're still just using each other! In moments of trouble, do you really think the He family would remain as our ally? Because of what? A meaningless marriage certificate? Don't be naive, father. When push comes to shove, they'll just throw us under the bus to save their own skin!"
When her father remained silent, Zhou Qin suppressed a sigh of frustration. What she really wanted was to shake her father's shoulders until he could finally see the obvious truth, Ice Queen aloofness be damned.
"Besides, how do you know that Li Yundong won't be successful in the future? He Shao is just a good-for-nothing lowlife who does nothing other than waste his family's wealth. Li Yundong is a smart, honorable, and loyal man who is willing to work hard. But here's the most important thing. He is selfless. He puts other people's needs above his own. I've seen him do it over and over again, father. I've seen it with my own eyes. He nearly broke his arms when he rescued me. Don't you see? A man like that is an asset. Loyalty is hard to come by. You know that." Zhou Qin stared at her father. "You might think that you can buy loyalty, but that kind of loyalty is fickle. What if others offer a higher price than ours? What then?" Zhou Qin shook her head. "An honorable man like Li Yundong, one who knows true loyalty, would never betray us no matter how much money is offered to him." Warm feelings flooded Zhou Qin's chest at the memory of Li Yundong tearing up the check Secretary Liu had offered him. Li Yundong's words—I don't want your stupid money—echoed in her mind like a soothing chime. Zhou Qin cleared her throat. "He has a lot of potential, father. I believe he would be a better choice than He Shao in the long run."
Zhou Keqiang shifted in his seat. "So what if he has potential. He Shao has a better starting point."
Not if we support him, father. Zhou Qin bit back the comment. She doubt her father was ready to hear that.
"Even if we give him a chance," Zhou Keqiang went on, "will he be willing to go through the system and enter the political circle? Fine. Let's say he's willing to do it. But even then, I doubt he would last a year! His character isn't made for politics. He's too honest. He has no guile."
Zhou Qin studied her father for a moment. Did she imagine it? Or had her father's attitude towards Li Yundong changed? Zhou Qin sighed. "You've never interacted with this man before, so I don't expect you to understand, father."
"What else is there to see other than a hot-blooded young man who thinks he can take on the world?"
Zhou Qin shook her head, then gazed into her father's eyes. "You haven't seen the things he did... The things he's capable of. But I have. I've seen him in action with my own eyes, and all I can say is this. He has powers, father. Otherworldly powers. Powers that go beyond status and wealth."
Instead of commenting, Zhou Keqiang lit up another cigarette. Zhou Qin sat in a car for a few more minutes before deciding that it was time for her to leave. Besides, Zhou Qin knew she had said more than enough already; she had made her case. "If there's nothing else," Zhou Qin said, opening the car door, "I'll be going now."
Zhou Keqiang sighed. "He's clearly in a stable and loving relationship with someone else. Do you really think it's wise for you to get involved? Won't you end up getting..." Zhou Keqiang cleared his throat. "Tired?"
Zhou Qin had to do a double take. Did her father just... express concern? Was he worried about her getting her heart broken? You're getting ahead of yourself, Zhou Qin.
"Even so, it's my choice," Zhou Qin said, "not someone else's will imposed on me. I won't regret my choice no matter how much difficulties I'll run into."
Zhou Qin shut the door and walked away from the Audi.
Secretary Liu slid into the Audi moments after Zhou Qin left.
Zhou Keqiang and Secretary Liu scowled at each other without saying a word. After a while, Zhou Keqiang tossed Secretary Liu a packet of cigarette. "Help yourself."
Secretary Liu removed a cigarette from the pack and lit it. He took a long drag, then blew out the smoke. Zhou Keqiang studied his trusted secretary for a moment. Suddenly, he smirked. "So. How does it feel like to be threatened?"
Zhou Keqiang watched in amusement as Secretary Liu shuddered.
"Scary," Secretary Liu said. "It was terrifying as hell, sir!"
Zhou Keqiang's eyebrows rose in surprise. Secretary Liu was no coward, yet a young brat managed to make him this terrified?
"Oh?" Zhou Keqiang studied his secretary carefully. "Scary? How scary? Why don't you describe it."
Secretary Liu took another pull from his cigarette and chuckled. "It felt like my life was completely in his hands, sir. Like he has the final say in whether I live or die."
Zhou Keqiang kept his eyes on his secretary. Secretary Liu shook the cigarette in his hand. Seconds later, Zhou Keqiang realized that the trembling wasn't deliberate.
Suddenly, Secretary Liu pressed the butt of his cigarette against the ashtray and leaned closer to Zhou Keqiang. "Sir, you heard everything over the phone just now, right?"
Zhou Keqiang nodded. "There was some kind of noise, like a bunch of stuff being dropped." Zhou Keqiang raised a brow. "Why, did that barbarian snatch your briefcase and empty its contents to the floor? Tsk! Don't tell me you got scared out of your wits just because of that?"
Secretary Liu shook his head grimly. "No, you don't understand, sir. He smashed a granite table into pieces with one hand."
Zhou Keqiang's eyes widened. "What?"
Secretary Liu nodded. There was a huge granite table where our conversation took place. And he slapped it with one hand and the whole thing just crumbled." Secretary Liu took something out from his briefcase. "Here. I took a sample of the pieces. As you can see, it's genuine granite."
Zhou Keqiang handed the rock back to his secretary. "So he knows a bit of Karate. That doesn't mean he's anything special. You could probably find hundreds of Karate masters who can do the same."
Secretary Liu shook his head grimly. "Smashing concrete slabs, maybe. But crushing a piece of granite with their grip strength alone? I doubt it, sir."
"What? What did you say?"
Secretary Liu rummaged through his briefcase again. "Before he left, he picked up a piece of granite from the debris." Secretary Liu pulled out a plastic bag. "The piece was about palm-sized. And he crushed it in his grip." Secretary Liu opened the plastic bag. "I've collected the remains."
Zhou Keqiang peered into the bag and saw a bunch of tiny rubbles. He raised his head and saw Secretary Liu's grim expression.
"Those rubbles came from a palm-sized piece of granite, sir."
"Th- that's... incredible..."
Secretary Liu nodded and put the bag away. "I gotta admit, sir. I nearly wet my pants when he did that. My God. It was a piece of granite. Granite! Can you imagine it if it was someone else's throat?"
Zhou Keqiang glanced out of the car's window. "Looks like things aren't as simple as I thought."
"What's our next step, sir?"
Zhou Keqiang took a deep breath. "Change of plans. Leave the guy alone for the time being. I want to see what's he's capable of."
"And then what?"
Zhou Keqiang raised his head and sighed. "And then we'll see."
"An honorable man, huh?" Zhou Keqiang said. "A man who couldn't be swayed by wealth and power. Can such a man truly exist?"
Zhou Qin sat on the bench near the academic building and watched the trees sway in the gentle breeze. Despite her initial shock, she was glad that her father had come today. Thanks to her father, Zhou Qin had obtained yet another piece of evidence which proved Li Yundong's worthiness. Familiar voices drifted from her right. She turned on the bench and saw Li Yundong and Su Chan walking away from the academic building.
"What took you so long!! Were you trying to starve me again?"
Li Yundong's laughter rang out. "Sorry, princess. Guess the conversation wasn't as simple as I thought."
"What were you talking about?"
"Oh. It's nothing. Just a casual conversation I guess. Hey. What say I make lunch for you back home? What do you say?"
"Yayyyyyy!!! I want the duck beer... beer duck!"
Li Yundong unleashed another round of laughter. "Again? But you had that yesterday!"
"But it tastes so gooood!"
Li Yundong had stopped talking and was looking right at her. Zhou Qin stood up from the bench and smiled at him. Li Yundong took Su Chan's hand and walked over.
"Everything alright with your father?" Li Yundong asked. His tone sounded careful. Guarded.
Zhou Qin smiled. "Yes. Everything's fine." All thanks to you...
Silence passed between them. Zhou Qin was just about to excuse herself when Li Yundong suddenly spoke.
"You know, Zhou Qin. Whatever happens, we've got your back." Li Yundong lifted Su Chan's hand. "Both of us. We're your friends."
Su Chan bobbed her head excitedly. "Mmm! You can tell me when someone tries to bully you, Elder Sister Zhou Qin! I'll kick them in the gonads!" Su Chan swung her free hand wildly.
Li Yundong smacked Su Chan's forehead. "Tsk! You can't just go around and kick people in the nuts, God damn it!"
"Oww... I was just trying to help..." Su Chan mumbled.
Warmth bloomed in Zhou Qin's chest as she stared at the couple in disbelief. You two are really... How could they be so…?
Oh God. She thought she was going to cry.
Li Yundong was staring at her again. "The point is... you're not alone. Not anymore. You have friends now, okay?" Li Yundong gave her a nod, then pulled Su Chan. Moments later, they were both walking away.
Su Chan waved at her a few times. "Bye, Elder Sister Zhou Qin! Have a good day!"
Zhou Qin waved back and tried to smile, but she couldn't. The tears in her eyes stung too much.
Zhou Qin watched as Li Yundong and Su Chan headed towards the gates, chatting happily with each other as though they didn't have a care in the world. The afternoon sun bathed over the beautiful couple and, for a moment there, Zhou Qin thought their bodies were glowing. A drop of tear escaped Zhou Qin's eyes. I'm not alone... Not anymore. At long last, Zhou Qin had found people in her life worth knowing, people worth fighting for. At long last, Zhou Qin had found true friends.
At long last.