"Which person?" asked He Ping, confused, as he followed the direction of Song's gaze.
People were coming and going, men and women, and in the dim light of the night with limited electric lighting, they all looked similar at first glance.
Mr. Song watched as the person he was looking for hurriedly disappeared into the crowd, feeling frustrated.
"He went to the third-class carriage. Go find him and bring him to me!" he ordered.
He Ping asked, "Who am I looking for? Is it a man or a woman? What do they look like?"
"He was originally an old Taoist with a beard. I saw him just now, and he looked very similar, but he turned into a woman wearing a sable hat and a silk dress. The dress was purple, a dark purple!" explained Mr. Song.
He Ping was speechless. He suspected that Mr. Song was using this as an excuse to take out his frustration on him. This person was neither fully male nor fully female, dressed in both Taoist robes and a skirt. It was difficult to tell their gender.
Song Lin snapped out of it and realized that what they were saying made no sense.
He took a deep breath and explained the situation.
"If I'm not mistaken, this person was originally a Taoist at the Guanyin Temple on Fuyu Mountain. I saw them when I went up the mountain with Mr. Jin today. Now they suddenly appear here in disguise. There must be something strange going on!"
As he spoke, He Ping also remembered something.
"There is Deputy Mayor Jin's coffin on this train, supposedly to take his wife to Beijing to bury him in their ancestral tomb."
Mr. Song's face showed disgust. "We're on the same train as a dead person? Isn't his wife supposed to leave in a few days?"
He Ping replied, "You remembered wrong. We advanced our journey, that's why we coincidentally ended up together. But the old lady's coffin should be in the cargo car, separated by the second and third class cars, so it shouldn't be a problem for us."
Mr. Song said, "The mother of Deputy Mayor Jin passed away. It's been more than seven days since her death, but he insisted on taking the coffin up the mountain to worship because he dreamt of Guanyin Temple. I knew something was off about this."
He Ping patiently asked, "What do you think is wrong about this?"
Mr. Song replied, "Deputy Mayor Jin works at the Municipal Government and is always finding ways to oppose my father. His behavior this time is strange. There may be some conspiracy or trickery involved. Even if there isn't, wouldn't it be a good thing to catch him in the act?"
He Ping thought to himself, "So it's all about political factions."
But he thought the idea of a man turning into a woman or a Taoist turning into an old lady was simply ridiculous.
He advised, "Mr. Song, in my opinion, it's possible that you mistook someone else for the person you saw earlier."
Song Lin shook her head. "I have a photographic memory for faces. I am very familiar with the movements of that old Taoist. Don't waste time talking. Take people to the third-class carriage immediately and find the Jin family. If there is any suspicion, detain them on the spot. We cannot let them leave the train... Never mind, just find them and bring them to me. I will interrogate them myself."
He Ping frowned, showing his disapproval. "This will offend Mr. Jin."
Song Lin sneered, clearly not caring about Deputy Mayor Jin.
He Ping had no choice but to lead the way and walk towards the third-class carriage, to satisfy the stubborn young master Mr. Song.
As soon as he entered the second carriage, a mixture of various smells filled the air.
By the time he reached the third carriage, the stench had become even stronger - the smell of smelly shoes and socks, leftover dry food, the body odor of various people, and even the sour smell of rotten fruit...
Despite holding his nose tightly, He Ping felt dizzy from the fumes and had the urge to turn around and run.
There was an elderly woman wearing a dark purple silk skirt and a blue cotton jacket, with her hair tied up in a bun.
According to Song Lin's description, He Ping searched one by one, and as he looked around, all the middle-aged and elderly women seemed to fit the description he was given.
Some were looking down, dozing off, and he had to crane his neck and stop to observe carefully to see the color of their skirts.
Wherever he went, everyone looked at him strangely, as if he were a flower thief targeting old women.
He Ping: ...
He didn't want this to happen!
He wanted to sit comfortably in the first carriage, sipping coffee by the heater. But unfortunately, his boss was the suspicious and jealous Mr. Song.
He Ping felt wronged. He lamented his brand new suit and wondered how much perfume he would have to spray on himself to cover up the smell.
"Mr. He, the person in the second to last row wearing a black cloak and a top hat should be a member of the Jin family. I've seen him before," said the attendant next to him suddenly.
He Ping quickly looked over.
There were three men and one woman. An old and a young man were whispering to each other while eating something.
Across from them, a man and a woman were dozing off on each other. The woman looked quite young and didn't seem like the old woman Mr. Song had described.
"Let's go take a look."
Old Jin was munching on melon seeds while listening to Little Jin's stories about the rumors and anecdotes in Fengtian. Suddenly, his shoulder was tapped and he almost choked on the melon seed shells in his mouth.
As a man of high status in the Jin family, his temper grew with age and he was about to turn around and curse at the person who tapped him.
"Who the hell are you?" he exclaimed.
But the person who tapped him, He Ping, didn't look like a passenger from the third carriage with his attire and demeanor.
"Are you Uncle Jin? My surname is He, and I am Mr. Song's confidential secretary. My attendant just said he saw you, and I thought he was mistaken. But here you are! Come with me to the first carriage, I'll have someone clear a seat for you!"
While Song Lin could ignore his status and offend him, He Ping couldn't be so reckless.
The other party was a member of Deputy Mayor Jin's team. Deputy Mayor Jin was known for his filial piety, and everyone in Fengtian knew it. The person who could accompany him to bring his mother's remains back to their hometown must be a trusted relative.
Even when it comes to beating a dog, one must consider the owner.
He Ping didn't want to offend anyone for no reason.
Old Jin's face showed a sudden realization, but his heart was filled with caution.
"Little He, thank you for your kindness. However, we have some business to attend to right now and cannot delay. The coffin of the old lady is placed in the back of the carriage, and we must accompany it to ensure nothing goes wrong. I dare not be careless. I wonder if the elder Mr. Song is also on the carriage?"
He Ping smiled and replied, "The elder Mr. Song is not here. I am traveling with the younger Mr. Song, his son, to Tianjin for official business."
Old Jin bowed and said, "Please apologize to Mr. Song for me. We are in mourning and it is inconvenient for us to go and greet him. When we arrive in Beijing, we will write a letter to inform our old master and ask him to thank Mr. Song on our behalf."
During the conversation, He Ping glanced at Ling Shu.
She was wearing a blue cheongsam without a skirt, so it couldn't be her.
"No problem, Uncle Jin. Who are these people?" He Ping asked.
"This is my nephew, also surnamed Jin, and also a member of the Jin family. These are my niece and her husband, who received a job offer from Beijing Middle School and happened to be traveling with us," Old Jin said, extending his arm to gesture at Yue Dingtang and his wife.
"We have guests, quickly get up and greet them! This is Mr. He, his boss Mr. Song is a colleague of Mr. Jin."
Yue Dingtang woke up from a deep sleep, feeling disoriented as he got up and swayed a little.
"Hello, Mr. He. This is my wife," he said.
Ling Shu half-hid behind Yue Dingtang, timidly greeting them with a voice as soft as a mosquito.
He didn't really listen to what the other person said, but he couldn't help but take a few more glances at his nephew's wife, who had a beautiful appearance and a scholarly air.
The other person seemed to lower their head even more.
Yue Dingtang apologized, "I'm sorry, Mr. He. My wife hasn't seen much of the world, and now she's pregnant and easily frightened by the bumpy train ride."
Ling Shu was confused.
'Wait, this wasn't in the script we agreed on?!'
But he quickly reacted, clutching his stomach and showing a pained expression.
"I think the baby just kicked me again," said the woman.
Yue Dingtang, Old Jin, and Little Jin looked at each other in silence.
"Come, sit down quickly!" Yue Dingtang helped the woman sit down and handed her a cup.
The two whispered to each other, looking like a loving couple.
Through their thick clothes, He Ping couldn't tell how many months Ling Shu had been pregnant.
He wasn't interested in their situation and quickly turned to Old Jin. "Did Mrs. Jin not come with you?"
Old Jin replied, "She's still at home taking care of her grandson. Once I settle things here, I'll go pick her up."
He Ping nodded, looking around but not wanting to leave.
"Since I'm here, why don't I go in and pay my respects to the old lady? Last time during the funeral, I was on a business trip for Mr. Song and couldn't make it back in time. I really feel guilty about it."
Old Jin politely declined, "Thank you for your kindness, but it's not very convenient on the train now. There are no lights in the cargo compartment. If you accidentally bump into something, it won't be good."
He Ping persisted, "I'll just kowtow once and wish her peace. I won't disturb the old lady."
Old Jin and Little Jin exchanged a glance and felt that if they continued to refuse, it would only arouse suspicion.
So they said, "Then please follow me."
The cargo compartment was pitch black, but suddenly a faint light appeared at the door.
It was a kerosene lamp from He Ping's follower.
A coffin was placed on top of a few small boxes, with a small black and white photo in front of it, a small incense burner with three burned-out incense sticks on top.
He Ping really didn't want to kowtow.
Because the cargo compartment floor was very dirty, who knows how many things have been transported on it over the years, and how many pathogenic bacteria were on it.
But once the words were out, with Old Jin watching on the side, He Ping had no choice but to play along and put on a show, pinching his nose and going through the motions.
Luckily, Old Jin stopped him: "Mr. He, the ground is dirty, you don't have to kneel. It's enough to bow as a gesture of respect. The old lady will understand."
He Ping reluctantly agreed: "Alright, I'll do as you say."
But as he got closer to the old black and white photo of the old lady, he couldn't help but feel a chill run down his spine.
Suddenly, a gust of wind blew out the kerosene lamp, startling He Ping. Just as he was about to turn around, he heard a noise coming from the corner of the cargo hold.
He Ping's hair stood on end and he didn't hesitate to turn around and leave, not even looking back as he threw out a parting remark: "Uncle Jin, thank you for your hard work. I'll go back and report to Mr. Song and ask him to arrange for a new cargo hold for you!"
He Ping didn't see it, but behind him, Old Jin and Little Jin exchanged a knowing smile.
After a long time, Old Yuan crawled out of the corner and wiped his sweat.
"I was almost suffocated!"
Old Jin asked him, "How did you know that Mr. Song would send someone over?"
Old Yuan replied irritably, "I just passed by the first carriage and unexpectedly saw Mr. Song eating by the window. I quickly slipped back. This place is so dirty, Mr. Song definitely wouldn't come over to inspect it himself. If he did come, it could really blow our cover!"
After returning, He Ping reported everything he saw and heard to Mr. Song, saying that he didn't see the old woman he mentioned.
Song Lin was skeptical, but after the group arrived in Tianjin, they sent a telegram back to Fengtian and dispatched someone to check the Guanyin Temple on Fuyu Mountain.
The person sent back a reply saying that there was not even a ghost in the temple, let alone any old or young Taoists.
It was then that Song Lin realized he had been fooled and confirmed that he had not been mistaken that night.
But it was too late.
The old Taoist had already fled, and as Song Lin had no evidence, it was impossible for him to confront Deputy Mayor Jin. Tianjin was no longer their territory, and it was impossible to send someone to catch Old Yuan and the others.
As the saying goes, the dragon has entered the sea, leaving no trace.
These are all stories for another time.