Fang Lei had been led to the big willow tree by Xiaohui.
He was used to waking up early for exercise and was about to go out for a run around the village. As soon as he left the house, Xiaohui, who had been following him all last night, dashed in the direction of the willow tree like an arrow. Fang Lei subconsciously chased after him and immediately realised that something was strange.
It hadn’t rained last night, but the ground around the big willow tree was slightly muddy. The wet ground was densely covered with tender green grass that was soft when stepped on. The closer one got to the big willow tree, the more one could smell a pleasingly fresh scent. Fang Lei took a deep breath and felt soothed and refreshed. With a slight raise of his eyebrows, he thought of Tiny Garden. Fang Lei had been to Tiny Garden quite a few times, and every time he went to Tiny Garden, he would have a similar feeling. It was like there was something in the air that could cleanse the mind, and the person had a complete sense of relaxation from the inside out.
While Fang Lei was lost in thought, Xiaohui had already climbed up the tree, squinting his eyes and lying on the branch with a look of enjoyment.
Fang Lei gazed thoughtfully at Xiaohui’s performance, squatted down and pinched the soil. The wet soil had a coolness to it, not like the water that had just been poured in the morning. Lu Lingxi’s name flashed through his mind, and his police officer’s instincts told him that the strangeness surrounding the big willow tree had something to do with Lu Lingxi.
“Brother Fang?” The sound of footsteps from behind him interrupted Fang Lei’s thoughts. He turned around to see Yan Yue and Lu Lingxi appearing behind him.
Inexplicably, the suspicion in Fang Lei’s heart was confirmed, as if Lu Lingxi’s appearance was the answer. He smiled faintly and asked as if nothing had happened, “Xiao Xi, why are you guys up so early?”
“Couldn’t sleep, came out for a walk.” Yan Yue answered the question for Lu Lingxi. He gave Fang Lei a deep look and stepped forward to casually say, “What about you? Why are you up so early too?”
Fang Lei shrugged and gestured to Xiaohui in the tree, “Xiaohui was making a lot of noise and wouldn’t let me sleep, so I came out for a walk too.”
Just as he finished speaking, Xiaohui in the tree looked displeased. He leaped lightly towards Fang Lei with his claws raised. Fang Lei nimbly dodged Xiaohui’s attack with a wry smile on his face that he couldn’t hide. Lu Lingxi chuckled, and the seemingly endless tension that permeated the atmosphere around the three of them suddenly disappeared.
Fang Lei stepped on the grass beneath his feet and said with emotion, “Spring has come early this year, it looks like the weather won’t be bad.”
He intended to draw attention to the strange dampness of the ground, but to his surprise Lu Lingxi shook his head and said seriously, “The weather will not necessarily be good. I’m afraid there will be a big drought.”
Fang Lei was stunned, “How can it be?”
Lu Lingxi used the same argument that Uncle Li had used, that there would be a big drought after a warm winter. This was the experience of the old farmers in the fields for many years, and although it might not always be accurate, most of their predictions were close. What Lu Lingxi didn’t say was that the evolution of the big willow tree was too sudden this time, and the water storage function after the evolution made him vaguely aware of something. The evolution of plants wasn’t without a pattern; through natural selection they had adapted to changes in their environment. He always felt that the evolution of the big willow tree was in preparation for drought, otherwise he couldn’t think of any use for the water storage function.
Fang Lei laughed at Lu Lingxi’s statement. Although he had grown up in Fengcheng, he remembered that something like this had been said in nature textbooks or somewhere in the past. But now it was different from the past; with reservoirs regulating water use, there shouldn’t be much of a problem even in case of a major drought.
“That’s not necessarily true.” Yan Yue wasn’t as optimistic as Fang Lei and mentioned the great drought in the southwest last year. The topic quickly shifted to the drought, with Lu Lingxi talking about his wish to build a few wells in Lingshui Village. Fang Lei tried several times to turn the conversation back to the appearance of the mud, only to have Yan Yue turn it back each time quietly. Fang Lei held his breath for a long time, unable to find a chance, and had to give up finally.
Lu Lingxi didn’t feel Fang Lei’s depression at all and was still discussing with Yan Yue in a serious manner about where in the village it would be convenient to build a well. Fang Lei smiled bitterly in frustration, forcibly suppressing the curiosity in his heart. No matter what happened last night, no matter what was going on with the big willow tree, he believed that Lu Lingxi, who was preparing to build a well in advance because he was worried that the drought would affect the villagers’ access to water, was the Xiao Xi he knew. There was no need to ask questions, as the other party would naturally say what they wanted to say.
The three of them looked around the big willow tree for a while, and then Fang Lei followed Yan Yue and Lu Lingxi back to the small courtyard. Xiaohui squatted lazily on Fang Lei’s shoulder, seemingly having decided that this place was his. Uncle Li had been waiting for the three of them in the plant nursery for a long time, and when he saw them coming back together, he immediately greeted them and asked them to come and eat. Lu Lingxi planned to return to Fengcheng after eating, as there was nothing more to do in Lingshui Village and it was time for Tiny Garden to open after the New Year.
Uncle Li was a bit sad to see Lu Lingxi go, “It would be nice if Xiao Xi stayed for a few more days.”
Lu Lingxi also wanted to stay at the plant nursery for a few more days, but Wang Shuxiu was pregnant, and he was thinking about his family.
During the meal, Uncle Li said that he had met Uncle Xu who had gone to the river with his bird in the morning, and that Uncle Xu had noticed that the water level of the Lingshui River seemed to have lowered considerably. Lu Lingxi bowed his head rather sheepishly while Uncle Li discussed with them excitedly whether the reservoir upstream had closed its gates and restricted water last night.
However, Uncle Li talked about another thing. Spring sowing was about to begin soon, and the upstream reservoir was estimated to be opened to release water. At this time of year, many fish would flow into the Lingshui River through the gates. When the Lingshui River wasn’t polluted much in the past, many people in their village went to the river to fish. Since the plastic factory was built last year, no one had gone fishing, and even if they did, they wouldn’t dare eat it. As soon as the fish got in the river, it would float on the surface of the water belly up. No one was foolish enough to eat it. This year, the pollution of the Lingshui River had been taken under control and it would definitely be lively when the water was released. Uncle Li wanted Lu Lingxi and the others to come together at that time and have fun.
This suggestion was immediately supported by Fang Lei’s side, especially Xiaohui, whose eyes lit up when he heard about the fish. He tugged at Fang Lei’s clothes and meowed twice. Although Fang Lei didn’t understand, he guessed what Xiaohui meant and took the opportunity to pet Xiaohui’s head. It was a rare case that he didn’t get a scratch from Xiaohui’s paw.
When it was time to go home, Xiaohui hesitantly looked at Lu Lingxi and then at Fang Lei. Although he had been following Fang Lei all day, it was Lu Lingxi who was more attractive to him. But just as Xiaohui was about to jump into Yan Yue’s car, Dahei suddenly rushed out and barked at Xiaohui in warning.
This was the first time that Dahei had shown obvious rejection of an animal that appeared next to Lu Lingxi, and his meaning was clear: it was fine to follow Lu Lingxi around for a few days, but there was absolutely no way to follow Lu Lingxi home.
After a long time of confrontation between the cat and the dog, Xiaohui narrowed his eyes and retreated to jump into Fang Lei’s car, flicking his tail arrogantly at Dahei from above. Fang Lei watched this scene with an itchy heart and beckoned Dahei. The main purpose of his visit was to borrow Dahei for a few days, and today he could just as well take Dahei with him. As for the grudge between Dahei and Xiaohui, Fang Lei didn’t think it was anything important.
He was very enthusiastic, but Dahei squatted at Lu Lingxi’s feet completely unmoved, just waiting for Lu Lingxi’s instructions. Lu Lingxi actually didn’t want to part with Dahei for a few days, but thinking about what he had promised Fang Lei, he had to squat down, hug Dahei and kiss him, telling him to be good and listen to Fang Lei.
Dahei reluctantly licked Lu Lingxi’s face and jumped into Fang Lei’s car. Xiaohui immediately exploded. He estimated that he couldn’t beat Dahei, so he turned around and meowed at Fang Lei, raised his two front paws and slapped Fang Lei several times.
Fang Lei: “……”
Lu Lingxi wanted to laugh to death but couldn’t really laugh out of concern for Fang Lei’s face, so he clutched his stomach and endured. Yan Yue hooked the corners of his mouth rather unscrupulously; he could imagine Fang Lei’s next days of chicken flying and dogs jumping. If Fang Lei had developed a tacit understanding with Xiaohui in the process of feeding him, even if he couldn’t communicate with him, Yan Yue felt that Xiaohui would be enough to help Fang Lei solve cases.
After sending Fang Lei away, Yan Yue and Lu Lingxi also went back to Fengcheng. Instead of going home, they went straight to Tiny Garden.
When they were almost at Tiny Garden, Lu Lingxi received a call from Wang Chaoliang. “Xiao Xi, are you coming over today? When does Tiny Garden open?”
“Uncle Wang? Big Brother Yan and I are on our way to Tiny Garden, we’ll be there soon.”
“That’s fine, I’ll wait for you at the entrance of Tiny Garden, we’ll talk later.”
Wang Chaoliang had taken half a month off for the New Year and was going on another business trip in a few days. He was now a special researcher at Tiny Garden Technology Company. Although his regular job was a researcher at the Fengcheng Botanical Institute, the institute didn’t object to researchers like Wang Chaoliang working for similar technology companies outside. After all, the Botanical Research Institute was a clean government institution, and there was not much external profit. The staff had a set salary, which was very poor. This kind of part-time job was considered by the Institute as a means of supporting the family, and the companies the researchers worked for were usually partners of the Institute.
Wang Chaoliang used to be a bit stubborn and didn’t like this type of cooperation. He had always felt that the Institute’s part-time researchers were putting the cart before the horse, and that it was difficult to determine the source of the results of such collaborations. Usually, when similar part-time researchers produced research results, the results were transferred to the market by their named partner companies. This was also the default unspoken rule of the Institute.
Last time, the chlorophytum that Wang Chaoliang researched came from Tiny Garden, and Wang Chaoliang gave Lu Lingxi the rights to the new plant variety without even thinking about it. Although some colleagues teased him afterwards about whether he had also taken up a job at Tiny Garden, Wang Chaoliang himself knew that he had no intention of taking up a part-time job outside. Yan Yue saw his meaning and said nothing. However, when Wang Chaoliang came to visit Lu Lingxi one time, Yan Yue deliberately took out two samples, the mutated donglingcao and the evolved mutated donglingcao. Wang Chaoliang’s eyes lit up; he knew that this was Yan Yue’s “trap” but he still couldn’t resist the temptation. After a few days of itching, he approached Yan Yue with an offer to collaborate and became a special researcher for Tiny Garden. Through his contacts, Tiny Garden became a natural partner of the Fengcheng Botanical Institute.
Of course, Lu Lingxi wasn’t aware of all these private dealings, and neither Wang Chaoliang nor Yan Yue had any intention of talking to him about them. Lu Lingxi was quite happy to have Wang Chaoliang join Tiny Garden and didn’t take it too seriously when Tiny Garden became a partner of the Botanical Institute. On the other hand, after joining Tiny Garden, Wang Chaoliang was very responsibly concerned about the interests of Tiny Garden. He also thought of Tiny Garden when there was a suitable project in the Institute.
Yan Yue had already considered Wang Chaoliang a good person and through these small things respected him even more. The reason why he wanted to work with Wang Chaoliang was for the new variety rights of the evolved donglingcao. The application for new plant variety rights in China was fairly easy but required a request for new plant variety rights, a specification and a photo. The request and photos were not a problem, but the specification had to be issued by a professional.
Considering that Su Lang’s research was progressing very well, and that they would sooner or later have to face Hopewell, Yan Yue naturally had to plan ahead and keep the raw materials under his control. For this reason, a professional researcher of trustworthy character was essential.
It was only after joining Tiny Garden that Wang Chaoliang learnt of Yan Yue’s intentions. He was completely uninterested in the benefits behind all this, and his whole heart and soul were focused on the research of donglingcao.
When Lu Lingxi hung up the phone, Yan Yue could already see Wang Chaoliang’s figure from afar. He was standing alone at the entrance of Tiny Garden, holding a large thermos in his hand. Yan Yue pulled over to the side of the road and Lu Lingxi greeted Wang Chaoliang with a smile.
Wang Chaoliang looked at Lu Lingxi and smiled affectionately, habitually starting to look for Dahei behind him.
“Dahei didn’t come today?” Wang Chaoliang was a little surprised; usually Dahei was always close to Lu Lingxi and would never leave Lu Lingxi’s side.
“Dahei stays at a friend’s house these days and will only be back in a few days.” Lu Lingxi explained.
Wang Chaoliang shook his head with a smile and showed the thermos in his hand with a regretful face, saying, “Your Grandma Wang made a pot of bone soup for Dahei. It seems that Dahei won’t be able to drink it.”
Lu Lingxi was a bit embarrassed. Grandma Wang often made some food for Dahei and was even more attentive to Dahei than he was. He thought about Grandma Wang’s age and wanted to ask Wang Chaoliang to persuade her not to work so hard in the future. Wang Chaoliang noticed what Lu Lingxi meant and laughed.
“Xiao Xi, don’t be embarrassed, your Grandma Wang has nothing to do at home every day. Having Dahei for her to think about is also a kind of emotional support.”
While the two of them were talking, Yan Yue had already opened the door of the shop. Wang Chaoliang followed the two into the shop and talked about the purpose of his visit. In a few days, he was going to Kunnan, the place where the largest primaeval rainforest in the northern hemisphere was located. Right next to it was the Kunnan Botanical Garden, the largest in China. This time, Wang Chaoliang was going to stay there for half a year as part of an exchange programme. He intended to bring his research results on donglingcao there. The research itself had come to an end, with just some information left to sort out before it could be published and new plant variety rights could be applied for.
Lu Lingxi listened with some longing. He had seen a program on TV about the pristine rainforests of Kunnan. With an average annual temperature of about 20 degrees, Kunnan could be considered a paradise for plants. According to rough statistics, more than 20,000 species of plants had been discovered in the Kunnan Rainforest, and there were still many undiscovered plants in the deeper parts of the rainforest where people could rarely go. The entire rainforest was a large plant base, providing a natural genetic treasure trove for the development of plant research in China.
Yan Yue felt Lu Lingxi’s desire and his heart fluttered. A year ago Ye Kang had also talked to him about taking Lu Lingxi to travel, and the place Yan Yue was thinking of going to then was Kunnan. “Does Xiao Xi want to go and see it? We can find time to go and stay for a few days.” Looking at Lu Lingxi, Yan Yue said in a soft voice.
Lu Lingxi’s eyes lit up at his words, but then he thought that Tiny Garden was still open for business and Wang Shuxiu was pregnant… He nodded obediently and said, “I want to go, but I can’t leave everyone over here.”
Wang Chaoliang interjected, “Xiao Xi is worried that there is no one in the shop? You can find a temporary part-time job helper to look after it for a few days. If you go, it’s just as well that I’m in Kunnan, so I can give you a good tour around the botanical garden. Normally, the botanical garden in Kunnan is only partially open to the public, and some plants are not visible to tourists.”
The temptation of plants was very strong, and Lu Lingxi frowned nervously, “But Mom is pregnant, and I want to stay by her side.”
Wang Chaoliang was a little surprised, “Xiao Xi is going to have a brother?”
Lu Lingxi nodded happily and said seriously, “Sister is fine too, I like both.”
Wang Chaoliang smiled, thinking that Lu Lingxi would only be nineteen years old this year, and no matter how old he was, he still looked like a child. He himself thought Yan Yue’s proposal was good, taking advantage of his presence at the Kunnan Botanical Garden to take Lu Lingxi for a good stroll. But Lu Lingxi wanted to stay with Wang Shuxiu, so Wang Chaoliang couldn’t say anything.
The three of them chatted for a while, but when it was almost ten o’clock and the shop was full of customers, Wang Chaoliang didn’t stay any longer. Lu Lingxi was busy with the customers, and Yan Yue sent Wang Chaoliang out of Tiny Garden. When Wang Chaoliang was leaving, he remembered one thing and confirmed with Yan Yue, “Are you sure that you only want to apply for the new plant variety rights for No. 2 donglingcao and not for No. 1?”
The so-called No. 1 donglingcao referred to the mutated donglingcao, while No. 2 donglingcao was the mutated donglingcao evolved by Lu Lingxi. Wang Chaoliang had numbered the two samples for the convenience of differentiation, and he was also used to calling them No. 1 and No. 2.
Yan Yue raised his eyebrows and nodded.
Wang Chaoliang felt strange; since he had studied them, why not apply for both together? If Yan Yue gave up the new plant variety rights for No. 1 donglingcao, it also meant giving up the associated benefits brought by No. 1. However, although Wang Chaoliang had not spent much time with Yan Yue, he knew that Yan Yue always had a purpose in doing things and wouldn’t give up the benefits in his hands without a reason. Since Yan Yue didn’t say anything, Wang Chaoliang didn’t bother to ask any more questions, said goodbye and left Tiny Garden.
After Yan Yue sent Wang Chaoliang away, the corners of his mouth curled up as he looked in the direction of Zhongjing and a cynical smile appeared on his face. Wang Chaoliang was well-intentioned, but if he had applied for the new plant variety rights for the mutated donglingcao, wouldn’t Hopewell’s research be in trouble now? It would have been a good thing for Hopewell, as they would have been able to switch research directions earlier and the loss would have been a drop in the bucket. Yan Yue wanted much more than that. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to wait until Hopewell thought it had succeeded and then give it a little push?