Once the ritual ended, Chen Yunzhi decided that they would search for Chen Xu’s body the next day.
Tang Tian also rushed to do some research on the so-called Dawan Village.
It turned out there were ten villages with the same name in the entire country.
She recalled that Chen Xu’s accident occurred at the Nanjiang River, which extended over 200 kilometres before flowing into the famous Yellow River.
Around where it crossed the northern boundary of the Shanxi province, there was a village bearing the name “Dawan”.
“This should be it,” she whispered.
But as she read a few more articles about the village, her brows furrowed.
The village was infamously known as “Dead Man’s Riverbend”.
Those who drowned upstream in the Yellow River were carried downstream as the river torrents followed relatively straight paths through valleys, along with sand, pebbles, and other sediments.
Once the ferocity of the river was spent, it formed a bend that turned almost ninety degrees, and as the water velocity decreased, floating sediments near the surface, such as those drowned corpses, were invariably pushed outwards due to the centrifugal force.
In the past, there was nothing unusual about the river bank, with only low levels of water submerging parts of the terrain, but as more corpses washed up and piled up on the river bank, the locals began to refer to the area by its infamous nickname.
The next day at around 9 o’clock, Chen Yunzhi’s secretary brought around a minivan to shuttle everyone to Dawan Village, which was 300 kilometres away from where they were.
For the first 2 hours of the journey, they travelled smoothly along the expressway, but they eventually had to take the provincial highway, where the road was narrower and filled with potholes.
They also had to stop mid-way for a brief lunch before resuming their journey.
In the end, it took them almost 6 hours to reach Dawan Village.
It was 3 o’clock in the evening when they arrived at the village entrance.
The road was too narrow for the vehicle, so they parked the car and went on foot.
Tang Tian trudged on slowly while she peered around the village curiously.
All that was there were derelict brick houses, with a few cadaverous, wrinkled old men sitting at their respective doorsteps.
Chen Peng grimaced.
“Where are the young men in this village?”
“Go ask where the corpses are, and if anyone is willing to fish it out of the river,” said Chen Yunzhi tersely to his secretary, Chen Shun, a bespectacled, well-dressed man who seemed highly educated.
After a few minutes, he returned and led them deeper into the village, briefing them like a tour guide with a group of tourists.
“From a long time ago, as there were too many corpses swept downriver, there arose in this region a rather peculiar profession, that of the body fisher.
Body fishers were people who would fish out corpses at the request of the bereaved families.
Most of the young men in the village refused to continue the dreadful work of their ancestors, so they sought jobs elsewhere.
Only one family in this village—a father and his only son—have remained in this profession.
They live in the west side of the village.”
Dawan Village was a relatively small settlement, and after walking along the rugged dirt path for approximately twenty minutes, they arrived at the western side of the village.
They passed by a mudbrick wall with “Fisher” written on it in large letters, as well as an arrow that pointed forward. They soon noticed a dark-skinned, bony old man, smoking a long pipe by his front door.
He wore a washed-out black cotton shirt and trousers.
At first glance, he seemed to be in his fifties or sixties.
When he saw them, he spoke with a vigour and enthusiasm that couldn’t be seen in the other weary old men in the village.
“Came for a body? Eh?”
This was a remote village where everyone knew each other.
Of course he immediately recognised the group as outsiders.
Right off the bat, he already knew they were here for his services.
Before Chen Yunzhi’s secretary could respond further, the old body fisher known as Wang Laowu cut him off, saying, “First things first, it costs ten thousand to hire us to go down those waters, regardless of whether the body can be retrieved.
You’ll pay us another ten thousand if we succeed.” His eyes glinted shrewdly as he peered sideways at Chen Yunzhi.
“Is it a deal, boss?”
After years in his role as a body fisher, he had learned how to judge a person’s character.
With a single scan of the entire group, he was able to identify the one who held the most authority.
From their outward appearance, he could also tell how much they were willing to pay.Read only at salmonlatte.com
For Chen Yunzhi and his family, it was an amount they could well afford—in comparison to their vast wealth, it could even be said to be nothing—but people of their stature were not so gullible as to be ripped off either. So, Chen Yunzhi didn’t respond to the offer straight away, lest the body fisher thought that he could scam the Chen family however he wished.
He signalled to his secretary and the latter began to haggle over the cost with Wang Laowu.
They exchanged a few words, and Wang Laowu began exaggeratedly waving his hands, insisting on his offer.
He protested, “This job is not as easy as you people think.
I have to face the dead all day.
How dreadful! Who knows how long that corpse you’re looking for has been underwater? All bloated, slippery, and rotten…” Wang Laowu curled his lips in disgust as he planted the vivid image of the decomposed body in everyone’s minds.
As he expected, they gagged inwardly. “Besides, I have to fish it out with my own two hands! If it wasn’t for me being sick, my son wouldn’t have stayed to take care of me, and neither of us would want to do this sort of work.”
“The body you’re looking for came downstream, about a month ago, from the Nanjiang River.
It was that time of summer when the water levels were rising high.
By my estimates, there’s a good chance the body has indeed reached here by now.
But, we have a rule in these parts.” Wang Laowu pointed towards the sky.
“We will not enter the mountains after dark.
It’s almost four in the evening now, which means two to three hours before nightfall.
Just enough time for us to do the job.
So, do you accept my offer? Or would you like to wait until tomorrow to fish out the body?”Read only at salmonlatte.com
The secretary, Chen Shun, looked towards Chen Yunzhi for his decision.
But before anyone could speak, Chen Peng yelled, “I’d rather die than spend the night here!”
The long, winding mountainous roads were the only way in and out of this village.
Chen Peng was already dreading having to spend another hour to get back to civilisation, but he was even more repulsed by the thought of staying in this filthy, dilapidated village.
Wang Laowu gave them a crooked grin, exposing his tobacco-stained teeth.
“Take your time, take your time.
Heck, I’ve got all the time in the world.
But”—he clicked his tongue—“the body though… Who knows how much time’s left for that body you hope to recover.”
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