“How much would those of top quality cost?”
Noticing how calm her tone was, the man explained, “The most expensive one was handcrafted by our old master, who’s already passed on. It’s the one and only piece we have, made out of the best material. It’s sold at a price of two million dollars, no bargaining.”
“Let me have a look at it. I’ll decide if it’s worth that price,” said An Xiaoning.
“It definitely is, you’ll understand when you see it, Missy.”
An Xiaoning sat on a stool and waited. Meanwhile, he entered the innermost room hidden deep inside the store and returned with the mask not long after.
He had in his hands a wooden box which he carried carefully before placing it on the table.
“There’s a mirror here, you may try the mask on and see how you look,” he said. An Xiaoning watched as he opened the box.
“Will I really see the effects just from trying it on?” she asked apprehensively.
“You’ll know once you try it. This is the only mask which is 99% realistic. You may adjust your expressions freely and even put some makeup on. It’s almost just like real human skin,” he said confidently.
An Xiaoning picked up the mask and instantly thought it felt exactly like human skin. It was realistic to the touch, with extremely defined and natural-looking creases, as well as realistic skin pores. An Xiaoning fitted the mask onto one half of her face. To her astonishment, the mask looked incredibly realistic.
“I want it.”
“Alright, this is only the base material. I’ll have to customize and tailor it to your facial features. I can sculpt the mask into any face you’d like.”
“Just make it pretty. Please give me your bank account number, I’ll transfer the money to you now,” she said as she stood up.
“Alright, since you’re so quick to decide, I shall make it quick too. I’ll get it ready by today,” he said while writing his name and bank account number on a piece of paper.
“Thank you, boss.”
“Don’t mention it, it’s just a transaction. Out of all the customers I’ve had in the past, you’re the first to be so kind and polite.”
“I hope you won’t disappoint me and the end product will be worth the hefty price I paid.”
“That goes without saying. Oh, I forgot to tell you earlier, the reason why this material is so expensive and valuable. Not only is it extremely realistic, it’s also very durable and has a long shelf life — it’ll remain intact for up to 50 years.”
“I’ll verify what you just said. If I find out that you’ve cheated me of my money, you shall face dire consequences,” she warned.
“You may feel free to do so, Missy. If what I’ve mentioned is not true, I’m willing to compensate you triple the amount that you paid. I’ve been selling this for years, I wouldn’t have had so many patrons if I weren’t credible.”
“To be safe, I’ve recorded our conversation. I’m going to transfer you the money now, get it ready as soon as possible,” she said, raising up her mobile phone in her hands.
Watching her figure recede, the owner of the store said indistinctly, “How is this little lass so alert and sharp?”
By noon, the mask was ready to be collected. An Xiaoning was surprised at how quick the owner had managed to sculpt the mask. Yet, she had also felt the pinch of its cost.
It was worth every cent, though.
She proceeded to bring the remaining bits of material for verification. Indeed, it was exactly like what the owner had described.
In order to test the results, she put on the mask and headed to her clothing store. Not only did Mei Yangyang fail to recognize her, the other two store assistants could not tell her identity as well.
At last, she was relieved.
Jin Qingyan had already returned home by the time she did. Upon her arrival, he asked, “Any progress?”
“No,” she said calmly while stretching her arm. “There are only a few people anyway, I’ll just investigate slowly.”
“Only a few people? Which few?” he asked.
“Those whom I know personally and vice versa. I think it’s highly unlikely that it’d be a looney who has nothing better to do other than mail me some dead rats.”
Just as An Xiaoning finished her sentence, Fan Shixin handed her a mailer bag and explained, “The courier mentioned that the address and words on the bag were written as instructed by the sender. The sender had claimed to be illiterate, and thus requested for the courier to write it instead.”
“Is the courier left-handed?” said An Xiaoning as she scanned the bag.
“I don’t know about that,” said Fan Shixin as he took another look at the handwriting on the bag. “Young Madam, how could you tell that it was written by a left-hander?” he asked.
“Because I, too, write with my left hand sometimes.” Noticing the puzzled expression on Jin Qingyan’s face, she continued, “I can write with both my hands. Alright, I’ll go meet the courier tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll go downstairs first then?”
“Yes, go ahead.” An Xiaoning sat down and began scrutinizing the handwritings on the bag. “What a neat and small handwriting, for a man. I’m really curious about what the courier looks like,” she remarked.
“I’ve met the courier before. He’s a handsome lad, you don’t have to go see him again.”
“Is that so? But he definitely isn’t as handsome as you are. That goes without saying,” she coaxed with a smile, noticing the frown on his face.
“Of course, I’ve never met any man better-looking than I am, ever since the day I was born,” said a pleased Jin Qingyan.
“Yes, yes, I’ve never seen a man as conceited as you are, ever since the day I was born either.”
He shot a glare at An Xiaoning while she hurriedly stood up to wash her hands and get ready for dinner.
When it was time for bed, An Xiaoning sprawled across the bed in her pajamas and said, “I visited the mask store today, but the masks are so expensive. The cheapest one costs at least 20 thousand dollars.”
“Do you know how much the most expensive one costs?” he asked.
“I’ve inquired about it, it costs two million dollars.”
“Hmm… two million dollars for a mask is indeed very expensive. However, I guess it’s not too high a price to pay, considering the fact that people either buy one for the fun of it or to disguise themselves in fear of getting recognized after committing an act of disgrace. If the price floor of each mask is raised to a minimum of a few million dollars, I reckon there would be a huge decrease in crime rates. But the owner wouldn’t do that, obviously, otherwise he would definitely suffer a loss of customers. He’s not going to survive long in this business, though.”
“Why?” asked an intrigued An Xiaoning.
“Because I received a piece of news today about the government enforcing a strict ban on merchants selling such items across the country. I suppose he should be eager to let go of the stock in his inventory currently, as soon as possible. After all, he shouldn’t be too happy to be imprisoned, after having made so much money from this business. I reckon he would be washing his hands off this as soon as he clears everything in his inventory,” Jin Qingyan said, thinking twice before he spoke.
“I see.” An Xiaoning felt relieved that she was decisive and firm in purchasing one earlier that day. She had a strong feeling that the mask would be of great help in the future.
An Xiaoning snapped back to reality and instantly denied, “No. If it weren’t for the existence of such masks, we would’ve caught the culprit long ago. What’s there to be happy about?”
“But you were smiling,” he insisted.
“Yes, I was. But that’s because people will no longer be fooled by the facade of these masks, after he stops selling them in the future. It would be easier for the police to go about their investigations as well. All in all, it would be beneficial to the public, so I’m happy about that. Lord, could you smile for me too?” she said, with a sudden shift in attitude as she smiled sweetly at him.
Instead of a smile, he gave her a light and gentle kiss.
A smile crept up on An Xiaoning’s lips as she looked up at him.
“Why did you kiss me?”
“Because I want to kiss you, what’s wrong?”