On a lively New Year's Eve, not far from a residential area, a brown teddy bear with a bow tied around its neck emerged from a public restroom in the corner of a small square, holding a backpack and looking around with an adorable expression.
The people who came to the square to celebrate the New Year quickly noticed its presence. They turned their heads and looked over, with some energetic children even screaming and shouting "Teddy, Teddy!" They pulled their parents over, wanting to get close to the teddy bear.
However, before they could get closer, the seemingly silly teddy bear suddenly stopped its head-turning and ran towards the activity vendors around the square with a strong sense of purpose. It finally stopped at an old man's balloon stand, gesturing and communicating with him. In the end, it took out a considerable amount of pink bills from its backpack and generously stuffed them into the old man's hand.
The old man was moved and bowed to thank the teddy bear before picking up his plastic stool and money box, leaving behind his tricycle loaded with balloons.
In the next second, the teddy bear placed its backpack on the tricycle filled with balloons, stepped on it, and skillfully rode the tricycle out of the vendor crowd...buying things while riding along the roadside shops and stalls.
Onlookers: "..." Hey, isn't your style a bit off?
"Candies, prank fireworks, colorful lights, New Year banners...so much variety. Is it really this lively outside for New Year's Eve?" Shi Jin muttered to himself while hiding inside a doll costume. He appeared relaxed on the outside, but his mind was being driven crazy by the slowly increasing progress bar.
Xiao Si, who had been silent since they entered the square, finally spoke up excitedly, "I've located him! Baby hasn't entered the residential area yet. They're parked at the entrance of the community!"
Shi Jin's eyes lit up. He quickly threw out a few red bills and cleared out a booth selling prank fireworks. He piled everything onto the tricycle, loaded it up with balloons, candies, and toys, and sped off towards the residential area like a gust of wind.
The children who were coming over exclaimed, "...Wow ah ah ah! The teddy is running! I want the teddy!"
The neighborhood where Chen Qing invited Lian Jun to dinner was called Tuanjie. It was an old neighborhood with a small area, messy greenery, narrow roads, few parking spaces, and a busy old street facing the main gate. At most, only two cars could drive side by side.
Number One parked the car at a corner of the street, some distance away from the neighborhood, and observed the surroundings. He said, "The buildings here are too mixed up. Anyone could be hiding anywhere. Once we get ambushed, it'll be hard to escape."
Number Two, who was sitting in the passenger seat, added, "The neighborhood is too old, with small internal alleys and no elevators. Is Black Rose's leader crazy? Does he not care if we get suspicious when Chen Qing chooses to have dinner here?"
As Lian Jun listened to their discussion, he glanced at the bustling crowd on the street and asked, "Is everyone's task assigned?"
Number Three, sitting on his left, tapped his tablet and replied, "The rescue team at Chen Qing's family is ready to go at any time. The officials and our people have successfully ambushed around the community and are currently investigating suspicious individuals and vehicles in the area. The situation inside the community is unclear, and we are still waiting for feedback from the reconnaissance team."
Lian Jun nodded in understanding and checked the time before dialing Chen Qing's number.
Number Nine, sitting on Lian Jun's other side, immediately began pinpointing Chen Qing's exact location. The phone was quickly answered, and Chen Qing's voice was as usual. He asked, "Lian Jun, have you arrived? My last soup is almost ready. You must taste my craftsmanship this time. This soup is special. I've carefully selected the ingredients for over half a month."
Over half a month.
Lian Jun extracted the important information and looked at the New Year's blessings posted on the shop window. He imagined the scene of Shi Jin enthusiastically building a snowman, but quickly refocused and replied, "I haven't arrived yet. The road conditions here are not good. The road is narrow, and the snow on the side of the road hasn't been completely cleared. It's difficult for my car to get in, so I may be a little late."
"It's okay, it's my fault. I was just thinking about meeting up with you and forgot to consider the road conditions here," Chen Qing comforted. In the background, the sounds of a spatula scraping against a pot and a television could be heard, creating a cozy and authentic atmosphere. "Just drive slowly and give me a call when you're almost here. I'll tell you which building to come to."
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Lian Jun suggested, "Why don't you just come out and meet me when you arrive? I'll be waiting for you at the entrance of the community."
There was a brief silence on Chen Qing's end before she responded calmly, "You come over first and give me a call when you're here. I need to take the soup off the stove. I'll hang up now, hurry up and come over." With that, he hung up the phone.
The hands of Number Nine, dancing rapidly on the computer keyboard, came to a stop. With a frown, he said, "I can roughly confirm that the phone signal did come from within this area of the community, but I can't pinpoint which building it came from. The call was too short."
"It's enough as long as we know the person is in the community," said Lian Jun, putting down his phone and looking at Number Three on his left. "Black Rose has been preparing for this meal for half a month. It's very likely that they have already replaced many of the residents in the community, so anyone investigating should be careful."
Number Three nodded and immediately began sending messages to his subordinates.
After waiting for about ten minutes, the person who went to investigate the community sent back a message - everything was normal. In other words, the people who entered the community didn't find anything.
To be more precise, Lian Jun's guess was probably correct. Black Rose likely replaced most of the residents in the community, and the current residents in the community were probably all Black Rose's people in disguise.
Everyone frowned, and Lian Jun pointed to his knee and instructed Number One to drive closer to the community while also calling Chen Qing.
The phone was quickly answered, and after Chen Qing responded, Lian Jun said that he had already arrived at the entrance of the community and asked Chen Qing to come out and meet him.
Chen Qing politely refused, saying that he suddenly had a stomach ache and was dealing with a physiological problem. He then reported the specific address of his house and said that he had already unlocked the door, allowing Lian Jun to go directly to his door. Everyone in the car was silent, unsure of what to do next.
"What should we do now, wait or go in?" Number Two asked.
"If we wait, Mr. Chen will probably call and say he's constipated," Number Three replied.
"But if we go in, we'll be walking right into a trap," Number Nine added.
All eyes turned to Lian Jun, waiting for his decision.
"We wait," Lian Jun said firmly, his tone calm and detached. "Black Rose wants to lure us into a trap. If we stay put, they'll have to compromise. Chen Qing will come out eventually. We can't enter the neighborhood, the situation inside is unclear. Going in would be like delivering ourselves as prey."
Everyone nodded in agreement and settled into a quiet wait. Three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes... Chen Qing still hadn't called, and Lian Jun remained calm, not calling Chen Qing either.
The situation had unknowingly reached a stalemate. Outside the car was an old street filled with the festive atmosphere of the new year, but with few pedestrians. Inside the car was complete silence, and a car window seemed to separate two different worlds.
In a room on the second floor of a shop across the street from the residential area, the leader of the Black Rose, Wang Mei, couldn't help but take off his headphones and slam the table in anger. He cursed, "This Lian Jun is too cautious, even when meeting an old friend!"
His deputy sitting next to him didn't expect Lian Jun to be so cautious. Without seeing Chen Qing, he wouldn't even enter the residential area's gate. He frowned and said, "So, what should we do now, Boss Wang? Should we keep waiting?"
"Stop wasting time! Lian Jun is the most cautious person I know. He's seen more traps than we've made money in our entire lives. If we keep dragging this out, do you believe he'll just cancel the deal and go back to his hideout?" Wang Mei snapped impatiently, walking over to the window to glance at Lian Jun's car parked outside the neighboring complex. "Go! Have Chen Qing call Lian Jun and try to coax him into coming into the complex. If he still refuses, then have Chen Qing go out and meet him!"
The deputy was worried and asked, "But what if Chen Qing goes out and Lian Jun still refuses to come in? What if he even demands to take Chen Qing somewhere else for dinner?"
This worry was not unfounded. With the level of caution that Lian Jun possessed, it was entirely possible for him to coax his old friend into giving up on cooking a grand meal and instead go to his place for dinner.
But if that were to happen, what would become of Chen Qing when he fell into Lian Jun's hands? Would they still be able to lay their trap?
Wang Mei's expression grew even more grim as he listened, his eyes darkening as he looked at the car where Lian Jun sat. He picked up the gun that was sitting on the cabinet and vigorously wiped it clean, saying, "We can't let Chen Qing follow Lian Jun. Send someone to warn him and make him remember who has his child now. If Lian Jun insists on not entering the community later, then we'll take him out right here! Tell Chen Qing to deceive Lian Jun into getting out of the car or rolling down the window, so that the sniper can get a better angle of attack. Let him know that if Lian Jun doesn't die today, then his child won't live to see tomorrow's sun!"
His deputy was still a bit worried and said, "But..."
"There's nothing to discuss!" Wang Mei interrupted him, pointing his gun at him. "Or are you just going to let Lian Jun get away like a coward? You know I don't keep cowards on my team."
The deputy was scared into silence and didn't dare oppose anymore. After flattering him for a while, he picked up his phone and contacted their subordinates in the community.
In the car, Number One withdrew his gaze from surveying the surroundings and said, "There are five suitable sniper positions nearby. The closest one is on the second floor of the shop across the street and the second floor of the shop behind the vehicle. One is too dark to see inside, and the other has the lights on and the curtains drawn, both are suspicious."
"Find someone to infiltrate," Lian Jun ordered, his fingers rubbing his phone. Suddenly, he asked, "What time is it?"
Everyone was taken aback. Just then, Number Three, who was looking at his tablet, glanced at the time and replied, "It's already half past six."
They had set off around five o'clock, spent half an hour getting here, and then found ways to delay for almost an hour. Now, the sky was pitch black and the number of pedestrians on the road was gradually decreasing. It was the perfect time to do something.
Lian Jun nodded in understanding and ordered, "Send someone to slowly approach this area and prepare to engage in a firefight outside the residential complex. Let the authorities figure out a way to clear the streets to avoid accidentally harming innocent people later."
Number Three nodded in agreement.
Suddenly, a phone rang, catching the attention of everyone in the car.
Lian Jun glanced at his phone and said, "It's Chen Qing's call." Then he answered it.
Chen Qing called to ask why Lian Jun hadn't arrived yet. Lian Jun explained that he was outside the community buying fruit because he felt it wouldn't be right to visit empty-handed during the Lunar New Year. Although they were friends, it was still important to be polite. He then asked if Chen Qing was free and mentioned that the buildings in their community were arranged in a confusing manner, and he didn't know the way. He needed someone to come and guide him.
Chen Qing teased him with a laugh and then made up a few excuses. He gave detailed directions and still hoped that Lian Jun could find his way in on his own.
Lian Jun continued to lament his poor sense of direction, saying that he just couldn't find his way.
The two of them were secretly playing along with each other, speaking in a friendly and cheerful tone as if they were about to reunite. But Wang Mei, who was eavesdropping, was getting more and more frustrated and felt like vomiting blood. He cursed Lian Jun for pretending and lying.
As the leader of the Annihilation gang, when did Lian Jun learn the ways of ordinary people's social etiquette? Buying fruit? Does Lian Jun even know where the entrance to a fruit shop is, having lived for so long? You can lie as if it were the truth, but if you have the guts to say you want to buy fruit, why don't you have the guts to get out of the car?
"I'm not waiting anymore! Have Chen Qing go out to pick him up. Everyone, be prepared and ambush Lian Jun. Also, bring a few cars. Once we succeed, we'll immediately retreat!" Wang Mei couldn't take it anymore and after giving orders, he slammed down the phone and personally aimed his gun at the car Lian Jun was sitting in.
In the end, Chen Qing came out to pick him up. He was alone, dressed thinly and even wore a comical apron, trying to hide his true intentions.
He walked up to the side of Lian Jun's car and, making sure that no one hiding in the shadows could see his face, mouthed silently to Lian Jun inside the car: There are people lying in ambush inside the gate of the community, all of them armed with guns, and there are snipers nearby. Don't get out of the car.
Lian Jun nodded to show that he understood, and said, "Sorry, I made you come out to pick me up."
"There's no need to apologize. It was my carelessness. I forgot that this community is hard to find," Chen Qing replied with a smile, but his heart was anxious.
He was afraid that Lian Jun would really take risks for him. In fact, he had already resigned himself to his fate. He only hoped that Lian Jun could rescue his child and then send his wife and child to a safe place. He didn't care much about his own safety anymore.
He was ready to die. Having lived a life on the streets, even if he were to quit halfway, he had already prepared himself to be pulled back into the dark world. He was content with the ordinary life he had lived for these years.
Besides, if it weren't for Lian Jun protecting him back then, he wouldn't have had this peaceful period. He didn't want Lian Jun to get hurt because of him.
With these thoughts in mind, he slowly stood up. He didn't follow Wang Mei's orders to open Lian Jun's car door. Instead, he took a step back and used his eyes to signal Lian Jun to leave quickly and not to worry about him.
Lian Jun furrowed his brow and shook his head at Number Two, then gestured for him to open the car door and help Chen Qing inside. The others prepared to provide cover, still talking to soothe Wang Mei, who might be eavesdropping on their conversation. "Just wait a moment, I'll get out of the car. The gate of this community is too narrow, and it seems like the car won't fit through."
However, Chen Qing thought that Lian Jun really wanted to get out of the car and hurriedly reached out to hold the door, his actions very obvious.
"Damn it, what is Chen Qing doing? Why isn't he going to open Lian Jun's car door and instead blocking it? Doesn't he care about his own life and his kids'?" Wang Mei was so angry that he wanted to grab Chen Qing's hand and pull Lian Jun out under his gun.
Standing next to him, his deputy suddenly panicked and put down his phone, urgently saying, "Boss Wang, it's not good. People are surrounding us from the outside, and several of our brothers guarding the perimeter have lost contact!"
Wang Mei's expression suddenly changed, realizing that he had been outmaneuvered by Lian Jun, and his plan had already been exposed. With a fierce expression, he switched to a sniper rifle and aimed at Chen Qing beside the car, ready to take care of this useless waste first.
He loaded the bullet.
Number Two gently pushed open the car door, ready to drag Chen Qing into the car.
All the snipers hidden in the dark also aimed their guns at Lian Jun's car.
Time seemed to stand still as the Black Rose operatives hidden within the community and the henchmen of Lian Jun, who had been pretending to be pedestrians on the street, gradually approached the car, all carefully watching the situation on that side. The tension was at its peak, and everyone was waiting for a signal to start the battle.
Ah ah ah ah ah aaaaaaah!
Suddenly, there was a loud scream. Shi Jin was frantically pedaling his tricycle, his heart racing as he watched Lian Jun's progress bar suddenly soar to 999.5. He was so scared that he almost suffocated. Finally, he saw the familiar silhouette of the car in front of him. Without hesitation, he slammed on the brakes and quickly grabbed a prank firework from the car, letting Xiao Si give him a powerful buff. He lit the firework and threw it with all his might towards the other side.
Crackle, crackle, crackle...
Fireworks flew in a parabolic arc and landed with a loud bang in the middle of the old street. Upon impact, they exploded into a circle of colorful ribbons, followed by a burst of multicolored smoke that quickly spread and enveloped a portion of the street.
After the fireworks display, Shi Jin extended his bear paw and pressed down hard on the horn of the three-wheeled cart's loudspeaker, turning up the volume to the maximum.
"Congratulations on your fortune, congratulations on your brilliance... Come and buy some cute and beautiful balloons... The best ones come forward, the rest please step aside..."
The distorted sound of the music and the hawking voices alternated, piercing through the city's night sky and deafening everyone's ears.
What...were these things?
Everyone was dumbfounded. Before they could react, there were several loud bangs and a bunch of lit prank fireworks came crashing down. Some landed at the entrance of the residential area, some hit the sign of the shop across the street, and some were even thrown directly into the entrance of the residential area. Everywhere was filled with the sound of exploding ribbons and colorful smoke drifting in the air, making the street instantly dreamy and hazy.
Wang Mei, who was preparing to pull the trigger, was also stunned. The view in front of him was filled with a misty and hazy atmosphere. He couldn't even see clearly, let alone snipe his target.
Number Two, who was pulling the car door, was momentarily stunned. But he quickly regained his senses and took advantage of the chaos to push the door open, half-step out of the car, pull Chen Qing into the car, slide the seat back, reach out to lay him down, help him tuck his legs into the car, and then slam the door shut with force. The whole process was smooth and seamless, taking only five seconds.
"Drive, let's go!" he shouted, unable to resist turning his head in the direction of the singing.
The others who didn't need to drive also made the same movements.
In the midst of the swirling, colorful smoke, a teddy bear on a tricycle was approaching in a lively manner, throwing candy and fireworks as it went, occasionally popping a couple of balloons into the air. It was like a living "little rascal".
"Damn! Whose kid is this? Pulling pranks during the New Year, this is just... too much! He just saved us from a fight," praised Number Two.
But Number Three frowned and said, "He messed up Black Rose's plan. He could face retaliation. We need to send someone to protect him."
"Then send someone!" Number One spoke up, quickly turning the steering wheel. Before Black Rose's people could react, he reversed, turned around, and left the scene without looking back.
However, Lian Jun furrowed his brows slightly, his gaze still fixed on the colorful smoke. He couldn't shake the feeling that the teddy bear's actions were familiar, like he had seen them somewhere before.
"Lian Jun," Chen Qing, who was sitting in the passenger seat, suddenly called out to him.
As Lian Jun regained his senses and withdrew his gaze, he shook off the inexplicable thoughts in his mind and looked at Chen Qing, who was still in shock. He reassured him, "Don't worry, someone has already gone to save your child. There aren't many people guarding them, so they will be safely rescued."
Chen Qing nodded and followed the help of Number Two to climb up, squeezing into the passenger seat. He gratefully nodded at Lian Jun and said, "Thank you. I thought I wouldn't make it back this time."
Lian Jun comforted him for a few more words, but suddenly felt a little uneasy when he remembered that Shen Jin was still alone in the clubhouse.
At the entrance of the residential area.
After Lian Jun left, the clueless members of the Black Rose and Lian Jun's men pretending to be passersby immediately broke out into a fight. The official forces were rushing over in large numbers, and Wang Mei's ambush failed, making him so angry that he almost smashed the house. In the end, his deputy persuaded him with flattering words and prepared to evacuate.
Even after safely boarding the evacuation vehicle, Wang Mei still felt unwilling and ordered fiercely, "Don't let the sniper leave yet! Find that bear who set off the fireworks and kill him!"
The deputy was shocked and worried, saying, "Now there are officials and Annihilation's people everywhere. It's too dangerous to leave our people behind."
"Are you the boss or am I the boss? Do as I say!" Wang Mei angrily pulled out his gun and pointed it at him, saying, "I said someone must die today. You wouldn't want that person to be yourself, would you?"
The deputy struggled to swallow his saliva and shook his head before pulling out his phone and dialing the sniper's number right in front of him.
Meanwhile, Shi Jin was racing down the old street on his tricycle, desperate to leave as quickly as possible. He had realized that there were no ordinary pedestrians on this street, only members of the underworld societies. If he didn't retreat now, he feared he would be caught in the crossfire.
"Jin Jin, the progress bar is starting to rise!" Xiao Si suddenly screamed.
Shi Jin was shocked and almost missed the pedal of his tricycle. "What's going on? Wasn't Lian Jun's progress bar decreasing?"
"It's not the baby's progress bar, it's yours! Your progress bar is rising! It's going really fast!" Xiao Si yelled, its voice cracking with fear.
Shi Jin glanced at his progress bar and was shocked to see it skyrocketing at a speed of 10 points per second. It had already reached over 900. His heart sank as he quickly looked around and identified several possible sniper locations. When the progress bar reached 980, he let go of the handlebars of his tricycle and jumped off, rolling towards the side of the street.
A bullet whizzed past and hit the ground nearby.