Unedited Chapter. Sorry, I’m in rush guys. I’m way behind on editing, but December is such a busy month. This Saturday release date is not working for me. Perhaps a weekday would work instead. What do you guys think?
Chapter 22: Within Reach
You won’t be disappointed.
He said… you won’t be disappointed?
Like spinach for Popeye, a light suddenly flashed in the eyes of a previously sick and listless Lin Jian.
She was a little afraid of believing what she just heard, because the sales had been devastatingly low just that morning. Now, for Li Zhicheng to say: “You won’t be disappointed,” shouldn’t the sales volume be… very good?
More than two thousand? No, this wasn’t enough to make Li Zhicheng satisfied. Three thousand? Even four?
She followed behind him, entered the headquarters, rode the elevator, and once again went into IT department. Lin Jian’s heart was threatening to burst out of her chest, to leap in front of the computer before she could.
As soon as she walked into office area, she saw the previously black faces of her colleagues brimming flush red now. They turned around and looked at them when they heard them: “Director Li!” “Director Li!” “Director Li, Assistant Lin!” There was an obviously excited glint in their eyes.
Xue Mingtao, Liu Tong, Gu Yanzhi, and the other leaders were also there, sitting inside the small office, chatting between themselves. All of them lifted their heads and looked their way at the same time, smiles etched across their lips.
Lin Jin couldn’t hold back any longer. She leaned down in front of a colleague’s computer nearby. “How were the sales today? I wasn’t here this afternoon, I wasn’t briefed.”
That colleague was very familiar with her after these past few days. His face beamed like a blooming flower. He firmly pulled the computer screen in front of her. “Assistant Lin, look for yourself!”
Lin Jin saw the number on the screen with her first glance. Her eyes were about to pop out.
Everyone started laughing. They noisily started telling her:
“That’s right. Only about two hours after the release of the official announcement from the director general did the sales start increasing sharply. It was leaping, 500, 1000, my god! The purchase orders put down now can only be delivered in three months, but the number is still skyrocketing!”
Someone else said, “We can’t fail to mention Assistant Lin’s online offensive!”
“I can die without regrets now!” a young guy said, sighing with emotion. “I can really die without regrets now!”
Lin Jian’s temples started to throb.
Mothertrucker, this happiness was too sudden! Were the heavens above finally showing some fairness?
Hahaha! Chen Zheng you SOB, we sold 7853 in a single day. Are you going to die from anger when you hear about this? This won’t do. Should she text him tomorrow? She’ll write: Director Chen, thanks to your blessings, we sold 800 units yesterday. Whoops, sorry, I forgot a 0 there. Hahaha!
The leaders came out of the small office while she was staring at the screen with bright eyes, her imagination running wild. Gu Yanzhi said, all smiles, “Director Li, you came back. Let’s have Director Li say a couple words.”
Everyone looked up and watched Li Zhicheng. Lin Jian also turned around and looked at him.
He stood a few steps away from her. His handsome face was impassive.
The corner of Lin Jian’s lips lifted in spite of herself. He should be rather used to boosting the morale of his troops, shouldn’t he? What was he going to say now?
Li Zhicheng stood under the lighting, lifted his tranquil eyes, swept his gaze around, and said, “Today’s overwhelming victory, ladies and gentlemen, all of you played a part in it.”
He paused. Everyone wore a happy expression.
They heard him say again, “Now, we can basically be certain already that this flanking counterattack was a success. Our rivals and competitors are powerless to reverse the situation. We can anticipate that in the future, we’ll swiftly swallow their market in middle-grade products, while our other categories will also follow suit and recover.” He stopped at the end, looked at everyone, then said, “We finally brought Aida back to life.”
Extremely simple and plain words. His tone was steady as well, without any expression or wording to manipulate someone’s feelings. Yet, everyone was dazed. Because he said “brought Aida back to life.” For some reason, these words made everyone’s mood grave. And amidst this graveness, there was another feeling soundlessly brewing.
No one spoke.
After a short silence, everyone, as though they came back to their senses at the same time, started shouting and cheering and clapping. They tossed down the documents they held and hugged each other in excitement.
Lin Jian’s eyes were surprisingly a little wet as well. She’d kept her eyes on Li Zhicheng during his speech. They’d clearly been very plain and very stalwart words, so why did they clutch at your heart and make you so proud?!
Holy cow! How on earth did she feel about him? Why did she have a gratified “my boss finally grew up” sort of feeling? But also a sweet, flustered feeling in her chest?
Li Zhicheng looked at her just then, as though he felt her eyes on him. Lin Jian was about to subconsciously say a few flatteries and recover her normal fighting attitude when she suddenly felt a tightness in her armpit. A tall male engineer near her pulled her in his arms and tightly hugged her: “Assistant Lin!”
He released her before she could come back to her senses and went to hug another middle-aged engineer nearby.
Lin Jian smiled, then gave those around her high fives and hugs, celebrating their success. Hehehe, from there on, she, Lin Jian, would be among her own people in the IT department.
With her thoughts drifting here and there, she glanced around and saw the leaders making their way to the group of engineers, very much in tune with the mood. Li Zhicheng was shaking hands with the engineer who’d just hugged her moments ago. He even patted his shoulder and whispered a few words to him. The engineer beamed with glory, unable to contain his joy.
Li Zhicheng then shook hands with a few others before turning his steps around and coming in front of Lin Jian.
Lin Jian was in too great a mood. Without thinking too much in that moment, she stretched out her hands with a wide smile, trying to shake his hand. She flattered him at the same time, open and easy: “Long live the big boss!”
Li Zhicheng’s figure was tall under the lighting, his short hair soft, vigorous and black. There was a seldom-seen warmth and gentleness in the lay of his eyebrows. Lin Jian’s arms tightened before she could react; she found herself in his arms. Then he lightly patted her shoulder, expressing his encouragements just like with the others.
Bang, bang. Lin Jian’s heart thumped in her chest. She could clearly smell the clear fragrance coming from his body. There was also his hand that held her wrists; it was powerful like iron. There was also his hand on her shoulder. The force from his fingertips were clearly holding her in place, keeping her in his embrace.
Everyone was smiling and chatting around them. No one noticed their peculiar situation. In fact, there wasn’t anything peculiar about them on the surface.
“Lin Jian,” he said, his voice soft against her ear. “I’m very happy I didn’t make you disappointed.”
This day was a beginning. When midnight came, the total sales of this sub-brand exceeded 8500.
The next day, it reached 12k.
In the next few days, the sales volume gradually fell back and stabilized, but still maintained a high level they were hardly hoping for on the flagship online store.
And when came the end of the year, the total sales for all the brands under Aida’s umbrella ranked first in the entire nation when it came to middle-grade leather bags. The number was even higher than the combined sales of ranks two, three, four, and five. And just like Li Zhicheng once said, the other categories of bags and trunks also gradually recovered in the wake of the umbrella brand, even though they still weren’t at the level they once were at. By the end of the year, Aida’s total yearly turnover was already nearing that of Smecki, turning their entire situation around.
This was something for later. For now, let us go back to that night back then.
Lin Jian went back home very late that night. After a roll-coaster of a day, she temporarily had no energy left to sort through her chaotic thoughts. She took a careless shower, lay down on the bed, and was about to fall asleep when she received a call from someone she hadn’t heard from in a long while, Lin Mochen.
She hadn’t called him during that time, and he hadn’t called her either. Brother and sister had come to a tacit understanding long ago. In Aida’s critical juncture, while they stood on a cliff, hanging on for their lives, he wouldn’t ask if she didn’t bring it up.
Now was fine. The rain was gone and the sky was clear. The situation was wonderful.
Lin Jian lay on the bed and lazily said, “My dear, what noble errand brings you here?”
There was a faint smile in Lin Mochen’s voice as well: “Congrats.”
Lin Jian: “Thanks.”
In the end, she still relied heavily on her elder brother, so she couldn’t hold back from recounting the soul-stirring, heart-shaking twists and turns of these few days. The only thing she omitted was the slap she’d received; she didn’t breathe a word of it. Lin Mochen quietly listened to her from beginning to end. When he heard her say she told Li Zhicheng they should compensate for the twenty millions, he chuckled quietly. “Putting wood at the city gates. Well played.”
Lin Jian held back her smile and was about to continue when she suddenly blinked.
Did her brother say “putting wood at the city gates?”
Putting wood at the city gates, this referred to Shang Yang using wood to establish trust back during antiquity. The meaning was to use a surprising, eye-grabbing trick to publicly establish credentials and gain the trust of the public.
This wasn’t a widely-used saying nowadays. But Lin Jian had remembered it he said it just now, because she’d seen it once not long ago.
That was during her first day as Li Zhicheng’s assistant, she standing the balcony, he reading the Art of War. He’d written down a few words back then. Wasn’t putting wood at the city gates among them?
Lost in her thoughts, she heard Lin Mochen say with a faint smile, “Silly, do you see it now? And you were talking about being his teacher. He was flawless every step of the way and duped competitors several times stronger. Me going against him would be more like it. From now on, keep your head down and stay in line, carefully learn from him, don’t make me ashamed.”
He hung up just after that, leaving a dazed Lin Jian behind.
What did her brother say just now?
There was a muscle that seemed to throb in her brain. Her mind was extremely clear, but her train of thought was a mess at the same time. The sleepiness from the cold was instantly tossed a hundred thousand miles away, because the words from her brother just now, that familiar “putting wood at the city gates” saying, they’d given rise to an inconceivable and unbelievable thought.
But she also had a sort of feeling, a feeling that this possibility had always been buried somewhere in a corner of her mind during all the time she had been at Li Zhicheng’s side. She’d merely pushed it away as soon as the thought came to her—how was it possible?
“Bang, bang, bang.” Her heart thumped in her chest. She immediately leaped down from the bed and grabbed her bag, rummaged it before taking a soft-leather notebook from it. She remembered that, because of the mindset of closely observing every fine detail about the big boss, she’d even noted it down in the notebook when she saw him write down that saying that day.
Flip flip flip, she flipped it for ages. A spark ignited in her mind, like two flintstones rubbing together, while she once again linked everything together.
If, like what her brother said, Li Zhicheng had planned for everything, then she had to throw away everything and start afresh.
So, back then during the Ming Sheng deal, he’d also been faking it and merely wanted to bait Smecki. The goal? Right, he’d put forward almost harsh tending conditions: a price not exceeding 30% of market price, a delivery time of three months. That was precisely his goal! He wanted to severely limit Smecki’s cash reserve and their market prices on high-end leather products, so that they would find themselves unable to snipe at Aida.
In the meantime, his goal had always been Smecki’s board, huge middle-grade leather market, even from the beginning? He only wanted to threaten east while attacking west, to create a diversion?
What about the spies then? Did he know in advance the existence of the spies, did he make use of them instead, then still ended up sending them in prison?
Right, there were also these thirty millions. Why did he set the number of winners at 2000? She’d glossed over it back then. Thinking back about it now, the 30 millions from the property sales had all been spent, not a single cent more or less! Could he have known well in advance that an error would happen?
Her thoughts were in a mess, but her hands finally found what she wrote back then. She calmed her mind and read these five military sayings, her heart beating like thunder. The beat of her heart became even faster.
Because the five sayings were—
Give someone a taste of their own medicine.
Borrow someone’s else knife to do the dirty work.
Threaten east while striking west.
Put wood at the city gates.
Conserve energy while encouraging the enemy to spend theirs.
Lin Jian held the notebook and sat dazed on the bed.
There was a feeling in her she couldn’t put in words. A sudden flash, shock, confusion… and also a feeling of unfamiliarity.
She never clearly saw him at all.
Li Zhicheng’s mien once again appeared in her mind. But this time, it wasn’t his grave taciturn yet graceful self on the train, not his tall and gentle self when he carried her on his back past the mud puddles. Instead, it was him sitting beside her at night, looking at her with eyes black as ink, deep as a winter night, his gaze filled the determination to win when he told her:
“I already saw what I want, it’s almost within reach.”
 城门立木: Putting wood at the city gates: The text already explains it somewhat. Shang Yang was the chief adviser of the first emperor of China, Emperor Qin. To get public opinion behind his reforms, he put wood at the southern gates of the capital and had it proclaimed that anyone who’d take the wood to the northern gates would receive ten golds. Everyone was skeptical and no one did it. So he raised the reward to 50 gold and promptly paid on the spot the man who finally took up the offer. Or so the tale goes at least.
 孙子兵法: The Art of War, a famous book on military strategy by the equally famous Sun Tzu.