When Cheng Xi arrived at Chen Jiaman’s hometown, it was almost noon. The town’s scenery remained the same; only the number of travellers on the road had increased.
When she arrived at the hospital, she saw a few familiar faces. There was the auntie who had led her through the town, the restaurant owner’s wife, and some of the town citizens who she had met and asked for directions from.
Without any exception, their eyes were all red, anger spilling into their faces. Luckily, the police were at the hospital to maintain order, along with some strangers who were simply taking pictures and videos without stopping.
Once Cheng Xi arrived, a number of supercilious looks were immediately aimed at her. The auntie who had led her through the town even spat a glob of saliva at her from afar as she angrily scolded, “An entire cabal of villains! Only helping each other spread evil; what a waste of your beauty!”
Cheng Xi shifted her gaze, expressionless. The police officer who had called her ignored the heckling words and quietly explained the situation to Cheng Xi. “...He prepared some blowfish meat, said that he was treating the other parents to a meal as an apology, bowed down to everyone to invite them over, and in the end, all of them ended up being poisoned. Some of the older folks weren’t able to handle it and passed away last night, and there are still a few people in the intensive care unit.”
Cheng Xi was shocked after hearing that piece of news, and only after recovering a while later did she ask, “Chen… How’s Chen Fuguo?”
“He was also poisoned, though he recovered right before dawn today. The first thing he wanted to do when he woke up was see you.”
“You said earlier that the poisoning incident was deliberate?”
“Yes. According to our preliminary investigation, this was a premeditated poisoning. In his backyard, we dug out a large number of dried blowfish organs. Chemical tests revealed that the blowfish meat that they consumed last night had a high degree of toxins within it, much more than would ordinarily be present. But the suspect refuses to confess to his crime or answer any of our questions, and says that he’ll only reveal the truth after seeing you.”
Cheng Xi didn’t know what to say. She didn’t expect that Chen Jiaman’s father would want to see her, and definitely didn’t expect him to use it as a bargaining chip.
The police brought her to the door of Chen Jiaman’s father’s ward. When Cheng Xi pushed the door open and entered, she saw Chen Fuguo alone in the two-patient room. At present, he was half-sitting up on the bed, his face was deathly pale, and his right hand was clutching at the side of the bed. On his wrist was a bright handcuff.
When he saw Cheng Xi enter, he turned his head to her and smiled.
Cheng Xi felt very uncomfortable as she walked to the side of his bed. “The police said that you wanted to see me. Is that right?”
“Yes.” Despite having just been at death’s door, the man in front of her seemed the same as before, save his wan and sallow expression. As always, he was dressed very neatly with his hair combed and tidily swept behind his head. He looked at her with a very sincere expression. “I know that you’re a good doctor. I’m very happy that you care this much for Chen Jiaman, and that she was able to meet you even after suffering through so much sadness and tragedy in her life.”
Cheng Xi looked at him quietly, not saying anything.
Chen Jiaman’s father didn’t want her to say anything either. He turned around again to gaze outside the window, slowly reminiscing about the past as a calm expression surfaced on his face. “I let her down by ignoring her all these years. But she’s very determined, even getting the top score of the town upon graduating from elementary school. At that time, I thought, ‘I can’t keep living life like this.’ It wasn’t for myself, but for her, for my mother. I knew that I should also settle down, so I started fishing in the open ocean with some companions. But life just seemed to bear a grudge against me. As soon as I finished my preparations, that happened to Jiaman.”
“Jiaman was originally introverted but obedient, never bringing either of us any trouble. Even if there was trouble, all she would do was hide at home, not saying anything, unwilling to go to school or even to leave the house. If I hadn’t seen that video, even I wouldn’t have known what had happened. Does that make me a failure of a father in your eyes?”
He paused for a moment to murmur, “To give birth to a child without raising her is not kindness but sin…... I’ve let her down miserably. Even after this happened to her, I couldn’t reclaim justice for her. And I even listened to the others, and thought that it would be better for her to quash everything down. To that end, I even forced her to go to school by beating her. If those people were the culprits, then I, I’m the executioner who drove her crazy.”
Cheng Xi didn’t want to hear these remorseful words which had come far too late. If he hadn’t taken the opportunity to help her when it was there, then any feeling of remorse on his part was by definition insincere—the most important condition to repentance was how one recovered and made amends for the mistakes they committed. “She’s only fourteen. If you truly want to save her, there’s still time.”
Chen Fuguo shook his head. “There’s no time left.” He laughed bitterly as he lamented, “I don’t know how to face her. Maybe, in this lifetime, I won’t ever know how to face her.” He turned back around to face Cheng Xi. “Jiaman...... will she be able to recover?”
“I don’t know.” Cheng Xi’s tone was unusually calm. “Originally, this sort of condition is best treated by the company and love of her family members. But after she accidentally hurt her own grandmother, and especially since you’ve given up on her now, I don’t know if she can still recover, or if she even wants to recover anymore.”
Actually, she felt that Chen Jiaman understood everything in the inner depths of her heart. However, what she had experienced far exceeded what she could bear, so she could only bury that clear-headed version of her deep within herself and close her eyes, plug her ears, and pretend that she didn’t know anything, just like a corpse.
Her illness was her subconscious response to her trauma. If she didn’t want to get better, then no one would ever be able to wake her up.
Upon hearing this, Chen Fuguo shut his eyes and remained silent for a long, long time. Afterwards, he took out a piece of paper from his pocket. “This is Chen Jiaman’s mother’s phone number. I might not be able to get out of here; Dr. Cheng, please help me find her and tell her what happened to Jiaman.”
“The day that you handed over that much money—did you already have this in mind?”
Chen Fuguo didn’t answer, only pushing the slip of paper toward her.
After thinking it over for a moment, Cheng Xi took it. The slip of paper wasn’t large. The only writing on it was a series of numbers.
She held that piece of paper tightly. Chen Fuguo’s silence spoke volumes. “When you did those things, did you ever consider what would happen if her mother turns out to be unwilling to take responsibility? A hundred thousand yuan doesn’t last that long. If she runs out of money, then your daughter will be kicked out of the hospital because she can’t afford the bills. Given the state that she’s in, if she doesn’t receive treatment, then even the government won’t be able to place her anywhere. Without any family, she could very well end up roaming the streets homeless. She can’t register cold or heat, hunger or fullness. She might after just a few days. If you’re truly remorseful, if you think that you’ve let her down, then have you never considered these things?”
Chen Jiaman’s father clutched his face out of anguish, unable to say a single word in response.
Their time was up, and Cheng Xi was sent outside by the police. After she came out, she found out that another victim had died, and the victims in intensive care weren’t doing too well either.
The family members of the poisoned townsfolk were agitatedly shouting outside the ward, “He did it intentionally! Give him the death penalty! Kill him!”
Because Cheng Xi had introduced herself as Chen Jiaman’s lawyer back then, she was also attacked by the people who recognized her. Those people pointed at her nose and scolded, “Don’t they say that lawyers have a duty to uphold law and order? Don’t they say that lawyers have to help speak out for victims? On the other hand, you’re helping defend a murderer. What kind of lawyer are you?”
The police officers who had escorted Cheng Xi out looked at her skeptically upon hearing these accusations. Cheng Xi’s face fell, and she didn’t declined to provide any further explanation.
She was only able to escape the crowd after being escorted out with the police on all sides. After they finally got through the crowd, the police said, “In order to avoid any conflicts, you should leave right away, Dr. Cheng.”
And so Dr. Cheng got on a car and rode back to the city, leaving as quickly as she could. That was the worst situation that Cheng Xi could ever remember encountering; she felt like she was just running away out of fear.
Not long after she left, Chen Fuguo confessed: he did plan it. Ever since Chen Jiaman started showing signs of mental instability, he would bring some blowfish organs home every time he went out to sea.
Originally, he hadn’t planned on doing anything with the organs, but then Chen Jiaman accidentally killed her grandmother and was sent to a mental ward.
After Chen Jiaman’s grandmother’s funeral, he had gone out to sea again, catching and buying blowfish in bulk. Despite being poisonous, blowfish flesh was fresh and tasty, and cooking a good meal out of it wasn’t hard. He had then invited a chef that he knew well, used the pretense of apologizing for the mess he had caused to gather the family members of the kids who had bullied Chen Jiaman all together, and then fed them all poisoned blowfish.
Twelve people were poisoned, of whom three had died.