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179 Just a Name

 Huo Shaoheng's phone rang and rang, but no one answered.

Usually, Gu Nianzhi would have hung up by now, but this time she left a message: "Uncle Huo, this is Nianzhi. It was my 18th birthday yesterday. Did you come to see me?"

After leaving the message, Gu Nianzhi went to the bathroom to shower.

She had not taken a proper shower at He Zhichu's house the day before; she had dried her hair-which had been wet from the rain-and washed her feet, and that had been it.

She showered, dried her hair, and immediately collapsed on her bed, already asleep.

She was fully refreshed by the next morning. She got up, bright and early, and went to the Committee of Appropriations at US Congress for another day of work.

At noon, she went to the Commission for Unrestricted Ocean Travel to look for Brother Huang-only to be told that he had taken the day off!

Gu Nianzhi was dumbfounded. She had gone to work as usual, right after getting into a nerve-racking shoot-out with the pirates. Brother Huang, on the other hand, had actually called in sick...

She called him on his phone. "Brother Huang, what happened? They told me you're sick."

Brother Huang was in his apartment, cocooned in a blanket and trying to get some sleep. He heard his phone ring, took the call, and whined plaintively: "Nianzhi? I almost died, and all because I wanted to celebrate your birthday!"

Gu Nianzhi remembered that the speedboat had been hijacked. She said, surprised, "...What happened to you? I heard from Professor He that all of you were okay."

"My body is fine, but my mind is traumatized." Brother Huang was a grown man, but this was by far the scariest thing he had ever encountered in his life. He had almost wet himself when the burly black men held a gun to his head...

"...Well, take care then. Have a good rest." Gu Nianzhi tried to comfort him. "Or wait, why don't you tell me what happened? You might feel better once you let it all out."

Brother Huang had been dying to tell someone about it; he jumped at the opportunity. "I still don't know what happened! They said they would be taking us to the cruise ship, but the van drove us to an empty house, and they tied us up. They left us there for a whole afternoon-I thought I was going to die! I couldn't stop thinking about my wife and family!"

"It's okay, everything's fine now. Professor He will make it up to you, I'm sure of it." A thought occurred to Gu Nianzhi. "But didn't Miss Wen arrange for the van? And the speedboat, too..."

"Yeah, it was her, but I don't blame her. It's not like she could have foreseen the pirates and hijacking." Brother Huang's voice was full of sympathetic understanding. "Barbados is a small country, and not exactly safe. The authorities over there haven't been able to keep the pirates in check, either. Professor He was the one who pulled some strings and got the Barbados police to rescue us." He gave a plaintive cry. "But I'm still scared! I haven't been able to get a good night's sleep. When I close my eyes, I can still feel that icy-cold gun barrel against my head!"

Gu Nianzhi comforted him, nonchalantly prying a few more details from him in the process. Finally, she said before hanging up, "Have a good rest, Brother Huang. I'll bring you a delicious dinner when I get home tonight."

For the rest of the day, Gu Nianzhi pondered over the mystery of the pirates. She wanted badly to know who had masterminded the pirate attack.

If it had been Wen Shouyi-why did she want to kill Gu Nianzhi?

If it had been someone else-who, and for what purpose?

She spent the entire day thinking about it, but ultimately decided she had too few clues to go on. Wen Shouyi seemed the most suspicious, but that was mostly because she could not think of anyone else.

She did not have any evidence to prove that Wen Shouyi had hired the pirates. Not only that, Wen Shouyi had actually taken a bullet for her; Gu Nianzhi knew she could no longer say whatever she liked, whenever she liked, to Wen Shouyi's face in the future. She would have to be polite to her now, no matter what she truly felt about her.

She decided to let it go.

She was not the type to be obsessed.

It was clear she would not be able to figure it out just by sitting around thinking about it. Besides, she was still alive and well; she had thwarted the plans of whoever it was who had set a 10 million dollar bounty on her head. The evil mastermind should be the one chewing up their fingernails in frustration right now, not Gu Nianzhi.

Gu Nianzhi shrugged. She would just ignore it for now.

Later that evening, when they had returned to their apartment building, Gu Nianzhi and Zhao Liangze paid a visit to Brother Huang. They had brought him dinner.

Zhao Liangze seized the opportunity to ask Brother Huang a few questions.

Zhao Liangze was a true professional; he was meticulous with his questions, and soon uncovered a number of other details Gu Nianzhi had neglected to ask about.

The two of them returned to their apartment. Zhao Liangze frowned as he said to Gu Nianzhi, "...Which of us has enemies in Barbados? Is it you, or me?"

"Why do you say that?" Gu Nianzhi rested her chin in her hand, her eyes wide with curiosity.

"Well, going by what Brother Huang said, whoever planned all this had to pull a lot of strings, which means they must be well-connected inside Barbados. Did you think the average Joe would have been able to pull something like that off, in the capital city of Barbados?" Zhao Liangze tousled Gu Nianzhi's hair. "Anyway, we'll get to the bottom of this. You don't have to worry about a thing."

"...I think Professor He should be the one doing the investigating," Gu Nianzhi said quietly. "He's lost so much money over this."

She recalled what Wen Shouyi had told her: He Zhichu had bought the cruise ship specifically for her birthday. It had been brand new-and now it sat at the bottom of the ocean.

He Zhichu would probably have to compensate all the guests he had invited to the party, too. No matter which way she sliced it, He Zhichu was the person who should be angriest over what had happened.

"He has to investigate this too, obviously." Zhao Liangze returned to his computer. "I'll let Big Xiong know what's going on."

Gu Nianzhi remained in his room, reluctant to leave. After a minute or two of awkward shuffling, she asked casually, "Brother Ze, where's Brother Xiong and Uncle Huo?"

Zhao Liangze paused. He turned to look at her, a smile on his face. "Why do you ask?"

"Didn't you say they went to Cuba? It takes more than a few days for a nuclear submarine to get from Cuba to the Empire, right?" Gu Nianzhi looked at him eagerly. "So Uncle Huo must still be..."

"Oh, you're asking about Mr. Huo." There was a teasing gleam in Zhao Liangze's eyes. "Mr. Huo and Big Xiong are already back in the Empire."

"What?" Gu Nianzhi was surprised. "Already?"

"Well, something came up in the Empire, so they left on a private jet." Zhao Liangze recounted what Yin Shixiong had told him.

But that was the extent of Yin Shixiong's knowledge-he did not know where Huo Shaoheng had gone, either.

As soon as they returned to the Huaxia Empire, Huo Shaoheng had been summoned by General Ji, the commander-in-chief of the military. All Yin Shixiong had heard was that Huo Shaoheng had been assigned a top-secret mission.

In actual fact, Huo Shaoheng had been thrown into solitary confinement by General Ji.

In order to protect Huo Shaoheng's reputation, only a handful of people knew about his punishment: General Ji; Chairman Long, the Speaker of the Senate; and Huo Shaoheng's father, Huo Guanchen, the director of the Military Political Department.

He would be locked up for two months, and not a day less.

Everyone in the military knew that solitary confinement was extremely hard on the nerves; it was worse than any form of corporal punishment.

He would be cut off from the outside world, with no one to speak to. The total isolation and loneliness was sometimes enough to drive a person crazy.

But Huo Shaoheng was different.

Solitary confinement was actually part of the Special Operations Forces' standard training program.

General Ji throwing Huo Shaoheng into solitary confinement was therefore more of a warning than an actual punishment.

Huo Shaoheng did not protest. He entered the confinement room alone.

He was a major general, too highly ranked for anyone else to know he had been sent to a confinement chamber as punishment. His confinement room was therefore a small, single room in General Ji's house, one that General Ji had cleaned out just for him.

There was a kitchen, a bathroom, a bed, a desk, a computer without internet access, and a large cabinet filled with an assortment of books and documents.

For the next two months, he would not be able to go on the internet, but he would be able to read his fill of books.

There were enough books and documents to help him pass the time for the next two months.

His phone, tablet, and other personal devices had all been confiscated. They were not allowed inside the confinement room.

General Ji personally stood watch over his confinement room.

The setup was watertight; Yin Shixiong and Zhao Liangze had no way of finding out what had actually happened to Huo Shaoheng.

Gu Nianzhi had waited in vain for Huo Shaoheng to call her. When she heard that he had been summoned to carry out a top-secret mission for the military, she relaxed and let out a sigh of relief.

But she could not help the feeling of emptiness.

It had been her 18th birthday, and she did not even get to hear Uncle Huo say a simple "Happy Birthday" to her...

Gu Nianzhi returned to her room. She took a shower, changed into her pajamas, and got ready for bed.

She had been about to check the news sites for the latest news when her phone began to ring.

Gu Nianzhi looked at the number displayed on the screen: it was an incoming call from He Zhichu.

She hesitated for a moment, but eventually decided to take the call.

Gu Nianzhi greeted him politely. "Hello, Professor He."

He Zhichu pursed his lips. He was in his mansion, watching the Potomac River from a window. His voice was cool when he asked, "Nianzhi, are you feeling better now?"

Gu Nianzhi nodded. "I'm fine. There was nothing wrong with me, anyway. I went to Congress today to listen in on the debates."

"I'm glad you're okay." He Zhichu did not know what else to say. After a moment of silence, he said, "Nianzhi, I know your parents are dead, but why do you have so many guardians?"

Gu Nianzhi: "..."

She hesitated. Her reply, when it came, was casual and indifferent: "That's all in the past now. I'm 18 years old, an independent adult. I don't need a guardian anymore."

As soon as she finished her sentence, Gu Nianzhi suddenly realized what she was saying.

She was 18. In the eyes of the law, she was now an adult capable of assuming full legal responsibility for her actions. It was no longer necessary for her to have a legal guardian.

And that meant she no longer had a valid reason to get in touch with Huo Shaoheng...

Gu Nianzhi was suddenly overcome with panic. She did not know what to do.

She felt as though she had been abandoned on a busy street. The people around her brushed past her, indifferent and uncaring, and she did not recognize anyone.

Gu Nianzhi hugged her panda pillow and shrunk further into her bed. She wanted desperately to hide herself behind the pillow.

He Zhichu noted Gu Nianzhi's reluctance to answer his question, and did not press the issue. She had said that she no longer required a guardian-he assumed that meant she would be able to make her own decisions from now on.

He Zhichu quietly watched the Potomac River from his window, his almond-shaped eyes shimmering in the mid-autumn night. He took a deep breath, and decided it was time to end the conversation. "All right. In that case, I'll be dealing with you directly from now on."

"Yeah." Gu Nianzhi buried her cheek into her pillow. She asked in a low, muffled voice: "Professor He, did you find out who hired those pirates?"

He Zhichu shook his head. "They're all dead. How am I supposed to investigate?"

"But they kept all those people hostage in Barbados. Isn't that enough for you to get the investigation going?" Gu Nianzhi was puzzled. He Zhichu was a powerful, influential man-surely he must have turned up something, anything, by now?

"Barbados isn't the United States. My reach isn't quite that long." He Zhichu smiled wryly. "You don't think I'm some kind of omnipotent god, do you?"

"'Course not," Gu Nianzhi blurted out automatically. He Zhichu's face, on the other end of the phone, immediately darkened.

She continued: "I know it happened in international waters, and the hostages were held in Barbados, which makes it difficult to investigate. But they sunk your cruise ship, Professor He. It's a huge loss-don't you want to find out who did it, and get them to compensate you? Whoever it was put out a 10 million dollar bounty on our heads, which means they have a lot of money."

He Zhichu's mood had rapidly deteriorated upon hearing Gu Nianzhi's flippant "'course not." He resisted the urge to sneer, and said coolly, "It's just a cruise ship. I don't really care. Besides, the ship was for you-you evidently don't care about it, so why should I?"

"What? For me?" Gu Nianzhi lifted her head from her pillow in surprise. "That cruise ship was really meant for me?"

"Of course. Didn't you see the engraving on the hull?" He Zhichu said irritably. "Or did Wen Shouyi not follow my orders?"

"Oh, no, I saw the name, but I thought you were just humoring me..." Gu Nianzhi laughed awkwardly. The name had been painted on, after all, and could be changed at any time.

If the cruise ship really did belong to her, she would have to see the proof. Was her name on the purchase papers?

She was not some silly, ignorant girl who did not know how ownership law worked. She was not foolish enough to believe the ship belonged to her just because her name had been painted on it. Without an actual legal document certifying her ownership, the painted letters on the hull merely spelled her name, nothing more.

"...Like I said, it's yours. There's no point arguing about it now, of course." He Zhichu wanted to drop the subject. The ship had already sunk-the most he could do now was get the insurance company to reimburse some of the damages.

Gu Nianzhi rubbed her brow in frustration. She shook her head as she insisted: "Professor He, if it isn't mine, it isn't mine. You can't just say that it belongs to me and dump it on my shoulders. It's a heavy burden, and I can't accept it."

"You think I'm lying?" He Zhichu finally understood what Gu Nianzhi was getting at. "When have I ever lied to you?"

He was furious now. He walked back to his study, turned on his computer, and found the folder containing all the legal documents for the cruise ship. He opened the scans of the proof of purchase and the deed.

As soon as he saw the scans, he was immediately at a loss for words.

The name on the deed was "He Zhichu," not "Gu Nianzhi."

In other words, Gu Nianzhi was right: the ship did not belong to her.

The name on the cruise ship had been nothing more than decorative paint.

He Zhichu snapped. He hung up and kicked his desk over in a fit of rage before calling Wen Shouyi over the phone. She was in Boston, recovering from her injuries.

"Wen Shouyi! I told you to transfer ownership of the cruise ship to Nianzhi. How dare you disobey me, behind my back?!" Wen Shouyi was lucky to be away in Boston; had she been standing in front of He Zhichu at that very moment, he would have strangled her to death.

Wen Shouyi's heart almost jumped out of her mouth. She did not understand. The ship had already sunk-what had possessed He Zhichu to dig up the deed and check the name on it?

"Professor He, let me explain. Nianzhi isn't a US citizen. Transferring ownership of the ship to her is a lengthy and complicated process, I'm still waiting for them to complete her background check..." Wen Shouyi smiled gently. "Professor He, now that the ship is gone, do you still want to transfer it to her? If that's what you want, I can give the company handling the background checks a nudge, ask them to hurry up."

"No. I'll buy her something else for her birthday." He Zhichu's voice was now even colder than Arctic permafrost. "Once you've recovered, I'm letting you go. I'll inform my family about it. We're going our separate ways."

Wen Shouyi closed her eyes. Her hands were shaking, but she did not protest. She replied in a soft voice: "Okay. Whatever you say, Professor He." She hung up and flopped backwards onto her bed, before turning over to bury her face into her pillow. There was the muffled sound of sobbing.