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163 We Have a Deal

 "Take it slow-what you need is real-life practice." Zhao Liangze nonchalantly changed the subject. "For example, I just told you something isn't right with the way Brother Huang looks at you. The next time you see him, make a note of the way he looks at you, and compare it with everyone else."

There were two ways to explain it: in academic terms, this was part of the field of psychology. The books published on this topic would fill an entire library.

In layman's terms, this was what was commonly referred to as "street smarts"-most people picked it up on their own. Children who were accustomed to watching the body language of the people around them eventually grew up to be shrewd and clever adults, one step ahead of everyone else.

Most of the wealthy, high IQ members of elite society were too inflexible and rigidly educated to be truly "street smart."

"That makes no sense!" Gu Nianzhi was not convinced. "How am I supposed to measure something like that, if it can't be quantified?!"

"Which is why I said it won't be easy. Do you have what it takes to learn?" Zhao Liangze straightened up, a wide grin on his face. "Okay, I'm going back to my room now. What do you want for dinner? Takeout?"

Gu Nianzhi stared at Zhao Liangze for a long moment, uncertain whether to believe him.

The two of them had their dinner. After that, Gu Nianzhi finished unpacking the last of her boxes and went to take a shower.

When she stepped out of the bathroom, she saw a missed call from Huo Shaoheng on her phone and hurriedly called him back.

"...Uncle Huo?" As soon as he picked up, Gu Nianzhi launched into a hasty explanation: "We've been busy unpacking, we just moved into our new place today. I was in the shower after that, and didn't hear the phone ring."

Huo Shaoheng was talking to Gu Nianzhi on his headset. He scrolled through the satellite images of the ocean on his computer as he said indifferently, "Don't worry about it. I was just calling to ask how you're settling in. How's the new place?"

"Not bad, but it's warmer here than in Boston." Gu Nianzhi wiped the sweat from her brow. "Maybe I should turn up the AC."

"Don't overdo it." Huo Shaoheng had come across an unusual satellite image, and was now too preoccupied with it to keep up the conversation. He decided to end the phone call. "Stay on your toes once you start working in Congress. Is there anything else? If there isn't, I'm going to hang up now."

Gu Nianzhi quickly said, "Wait! Don't hang up!"

"Is there something else?" Huo Shaoheng moved his mouse cursor over the ocean map, pulling up strings of data. His brow furrowed.

Gu Nianzhi recalled what Zhao Liangze had just told her, and immediately repeated it to Huo Shaoheng-every single word of it. "...Uncle Huo, I heard about the Special Ops training. The soldiers have to learn how to tell what someone is really after, and also how to react when someone tries to seduce them. They're also taught how to tell whether someone is truly interested in them, or just acting a part, and also how to gain the confidence of their target during a mission. Is that true? I want to learn all that, too..."

Huo Shaoheng was momentarily stunned. He gathered his scattered attention to focus on what he was hearing over his headset. "What did you just say? Repeat all that to me, again."

Gu Nianzhi repeated herself. She insisted, "I want to learn all that. I think I'm terrible at reading people."

Huo Shaoheng's expression had darkened. He said stiffly, "Who's been feeding you all this nonsense? We're soldiers, part of the regular army, not some secret spy agency-why would we learn all that crap?"

Zhao Liangze had actually been telling the truth: those were compulsory training modules for the Special Ops soldiers. Gu Nianzhi was not a member of the Special Operations Forces, however, and telling her about these training modules amounted to a security breach.

"Oh? So Brother Ze lied to me." Gu Nianzhi let out a long sigh of relief. She felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted off her shoulders. "He was so convincing, he had me hook, line, and sinker. He made me sound like I was completely clueless, and kept telling me to be 'smarter'-isn't that just another way of telling me I'm naive? Am I really that stupid?"

She did not know it herself, but she sounded like she was coyly fishing for a compliment.

Huo Shaoheng smiled slightly. He moved his mouse cursor over to the program to contact Zhao Liangze, and initiated a connection with a light tap of his finger. In the meantime, he said casually: "Don't listen to Little Ze's nonsense. You're as clever and shrewd as they come."

Gu Nianzhi: "..."

After a moment, she asked weakly, "Uncle Huo, is that supposed to be a compliment?"

In Gu Nianzhi's humble opinion, she was neither too naïve nor too calculating-she was intelligent, charming, beautiful, with just the right amount of street smarts! (*^_^*)

But not everyone shared her opinion, it seemed. <>

"You were clever enough to steal my T-shirts from right under my nose." Huo Shaoheng smiled as he thought of Gu Nianzhi using his black T-shirts for her pajamas.

Gu Nianzhi clammed up at this, thoroughly embarrassed. After a moment, she summoned the courage to say: "...You promised to give me a few of those black T-shirts, don't forget." With that, she hastily hung up and flopped backwards onto her bed, looking like she was about to die from embarrassment. She hugged her panda pillow and rolled over to the other side of the bed.

Somehow, a phone call with Huo Shaoheng always stirred up a vortex of conflicting emotions within her: sometimes it left her depressed, sometimes it made her dizzy with joy, and sometimes she would laugh out loud for no real reason. She wondered what was wrong with her...

Zhao Liangze, on the other hand, was now in hot water.

He had not expected Gu Nianzhi to immediately repeat everything he had told her to Huo Shaoheng.

This was exactly why he had told her she wasn't "smart" enough!

Zhao Liangze vowed to chop his hand off if he was ever stupid enough to give Gu Nianzhi advice again. (Zhao Liangze's hand: <>< how="" is="" that="" my="">

"Sir, it was an emergency, I swear, it wasn't my intention to leak any of our secrets..." Zhao Liangze explained. He had already broken out in a cold sweat.

"You better have a very good reason for what you did, if you want me to let you off the hook," Huo Shaoheng said placidly. He enlarged the satellite image of the ocean on his computer and downloaded a copy of the data.

Zhao Liangze had no choice but to sell Brother Huang out. "Let me explain: Nianzhi's schoolmate was practically leering at her. I advised her to keep her distance from him, but she wouldn't listen, so I told her a few things about our Special Ops training. I told her what the training modules are for, but I didn't tell her anything about how the lessons are actually carried out. You can ask her, if you don't believe me."

Huo Shaoheng believed him. He knew Zhao Liangze would never tell anyone anything about the Special Operations Forces without his permission.

"Well, it isn't a good reason, but it isn't a bad one either. I give it a B-." Huo Shaoheng decided to let Zhao Liangze off the hook for now. "You seem to have a lot of free time, enough to engage in heart-to-heart sisterly talks with Nianzhi. What are you, her soul sister? I'll give you some work to do." Huo Shaoheng sent Zhao Liangze a copy of the satellite image and the data. "This is the ocean map of the Gulf of Aden. The data shows the ocean currents, weather, and changes in the magnetic field. I want you to analyze them, and tell me if the numbers seem familiar to you."

"Soul sister?! I'm her soul brother! I'm a man!" Zhao Liangze protested furiously, but when he saw the data from Huo Shaoheng, he immediately sobered. "No problem. I'll run a database analysis, right away."


The next day, Gu Nianzhi and Brother Huang met up with He Zhichu and Wen Shouyi in front of the Capitol Building.

"Miss Wen, you're back!" Brother Huang greeted her enthusiastically. "Is everyone in your family doing all right? You should have taken a few days off to rest up."

Gu Nianzhi remembered what Zhao Liangze had told her last night. Huo Shaoheng had set the record straight after that, but Zhao Liangze's words had affected her deeply, all the same.

She carefully observed Brother Huang, and discovered that he was a natural at making friends.

His friendly, easygoing manner was actually an important asset for lawyers; it helped put clients at ease, and witnesses were more likely to open up to a charming lawyer.

This was something she could learn from him...

Gu Nianzhi stood smiling beside Brother Huang, her beautiful eyes glued to him as she watched him interact with Wen Shouyi.

Brother Huang wondered why Gu Nianzhi was being so attentive today. He saw the admiration in Gu Nianzhi's eyes, and puffed out his chest in self-important pride.

He Zhichu frowned. He did not see what was so interesting about Brother Huang...

He turned to walk up the steps leading to the Capitol Building, his expression icy. "Little Huang, you'll be interning at the Commission for Unrestricted Ocean Travel. Miss Wen will take you there. Nianzhi, you're coming with me-your internship is with the Committee of Appropriations."

Brother Huang was researching laws pertaining to the sea and the atmosphere. The Commission for Unrestricted Ocean Travel was the right department for him.

But Gu Nianzhi did not have anything in common with the Committee of Appropriations at all.

That particular department had more to do with finance than law.

Gu Nianzhi was not bothered by it, however. She had yet to determine her field of research, anyway.

Wen Shouyi saw that He Zhichu had already walked on ahead, and urged Gu Nianzhi to catch up to him. "You should get going, Little Gu. Professor He has already gone up the steps." She added: "Professor He had to pull a lot of strings to secure your internship. It's just a bookkeeping position with no real authority, but you'll still get to observe how the US Congress works. Don't be sloppy now, you don't want to embarrass Professor He."

Wen Shouyi was right about the Committee of Appropriations not having any real authority; it did not actually have control over the flow of funds.

It was the department responsible for keeping a record of the funds after the appropriations bills had been passed by Congress. In short, the department was made up entirely of bookkeepers-the staff working there could not even call themselves accountants.

Gu Nianzhi had to admit that it was an unimportant department.

Now that all of the work had been digitized, the department seemed even more redundant. Their "bookkeeping" consisted only of pressing a few buttons on the computer every day: Approve, Agree, and Upload.

It was exactly the kind of harmless, boring department someone as "problematic" as Gu Nianzhi would be exiled to. Her recent run-in with the law made her too risky to hire as an intern, but at the same time Congress could not scrap her internship entirely, not with someone as powerful as He Zhichu backing her.

Gu Nianzhi could see it now: she would be spending the next six months working the copier machine, and running about buying coffee and lunch for her colleagues. She would be a glorified errand girl.

Brother Huang had studied up on the various Congress committees, and knew all about the Committee of Appropriations. He gave Gu Nianzhi a sympathetic look, before following Wen Shouyi to the Commission for Unrestricted Ocean Travel.

Gu Nianzhi found that she was deeply prejudiced against Wen Shouyi: everything she said sounded mean and hostile to her ears.

Gu Nianzhi narrowed her eyes at Wen Shouyi's retreating back, but did not get angry. After a moment, she gave a dismissive laugh and turned towards the stairs.

He Zhichu was standing at the top of the steps, waiting for her with his hands in his pockets.

He was wearing a three-piece cashmere suit. His pearl white non-iron shirt looked especially crisp and fresh under his light blue tie.

Most of the congressmen going in and out of the Capitol Building were overweight and chunky; He Zhichu's tall, slender figure was like a breath of fresh air.

Gu Nianzhi saw how stylish he looked, and her unhappiness with Wen Shouyi immediately vanished.

"You look so dashing today, Professor He." Gu Nianzhi complimented him with a cheeky grin as they walked towards the office for the Committee of Appropriations.

He Zhichu's frosty expression warmed slightly. His voice, however, was as cool as always. "How do you like your apartment? It's a serviced apartment, you get room cleaning service every day."

Gu Nianzhi nodded, a cheerful smile on her face. "It has everything I need, and the service is fantastic. Thank you, Professor He. It's a really nice place."

"It better be. It costs almost 8,000 dollars a month." He Zhichu led her to the Committee of Appropriations. He reached out and adjusted the small bow on the collar of Gu Nianzhi's lilac suit. "Off you go, then. Everyone thinks this is the least important department in the US Congress-well, the people who think that are complete idiots, in my opinion."

"What? Really?" Gu Nianzhi was intrigued. She liked these puzzles best. She enjoyed looking for hints of the extraordinary in what was otherwise mundane and boring.

"Yes. Let's see if you're smart enough to figure it out. If you are, you'll realize that this department holds the reins to Congress," said He Zhichu enigmatically. "Figure it out, and you can expect an extravagant present from me for your 18th birthday."

Gu Nianzhi raised her hand, her eyes shimmering like the finest black quartz. "We have a deal!"

He Zhichu gazed at her. He could see himself reflected in her twinkling eyes: tall, dignified, but cool as ice.

He smiled slightly as he hung her ID card around her neck. He reached out, tousled her hair, and left.

Gu Nianzhi stepped towards the entrance to the Committee of Appropriations and said to the old Caucasian woman smiling at the door: "I'm Gu Nianzhi, an intern." She pointed to her ID.

The ID had her photo, her name, her phone number, her department, and a special barcode.

With this ID, she now had unrestricted access to the Capitol Building.

The old woman was happy to see a pretty Asian girl like Gu Nianzhi. She extended her arms and gave her a big hug. "Gu, you're finally here. I'm Mary. Come, I'll take you to your office. "

Gu Nianzhi was stunned. "I have my own office?!"

She had expected a seat in the open lobby at most...

"Of course. We have plenty of vacant offices here-no one wants to join our department, don't you know?" Mary winked at her.

The two women burst into laughter.


Gu Nianzhi and Zhao Liangze were both extremely busy for the next several days.

They were so busy with their work they barely saw each other, even though they lived in the same apartment.

Gu Nianzhi had her breakfast and lunch at the Capitol Building. In the evenings, He Zhichu and Wen Shouyi took turns to take her and Brother Huang out to dinner.

It took Gu Nianzhi a week to finally discover what Zhao Liangze had been having for his meals.

"You've been eating pizza every day?!" Gu Nianzhi stared incredulously at the towering stacks of pizza boxes in Zhao Liangze's room. She pinched her nose. "Ugh, you smell like onions and cheese now!"

Pizzas were almost always topped with onions. Gu Nianzhi absolutely loathed onions.

Zhao Liangze had spent virtually every minute of the past several days working on the data Huo Shaoheng had sent him. He was almost finished now.

He saw Gu Nianzhi come in, and waved her over. "Hey whiz-kid, come here and take a look at this. What do you think?"