The three of them started to clear out the storage units. Following the rule of storage auctions, they started with the most valuable one. A group of treasure hunters crowded around, clearly interested in the storage unit that Hans and Li Du had picked.
Burning with curiosity, Clyne pulled open the door to storage unit 11. "What's in here?"
Hans patted him on the shoulder. "Just trust Li. He has flaming, golden eyes."
"What? Flaming, golden eyes? What eyes are those?" someone cried out, aghast.
"He means to say huǒ yǎn jīn jīng," a Chinese-looking treasure hunter said. "It's a Chinese term that basically means 'penetrating eyes.' They're the eyes of God in one of our Chinese legends."
"Are there really eyes like that?"
The Chinese treasure hunter hesitated. "I used to think that it was just a tale. But now, I can't say for sure. Li does seem to have them."
Li Du ignored their muttering. He moved the box aside. Hans went for the box of carving tools first. Opening it, he said, "Let's take a look… Oh sh*t, sh*t, sh*t!"
The surrounding treasure hunters got excited when he started screaming. They crowded around him.
"What is it? What did you find?"
"D*mn it, don't block me!"
"Sh*t! Who touched my *ss?"
Hans opened the toolbox for them to see, laughing in glee. "It's just some normal carving tools—you've been fooled!"
A flurry of middle fingers flashed at him.
"Fox, you rotten b*stard!"
"I hope you meet the Grim Reaper soon!"
After having had his fun with the treasure hunters, Hans moved to pick up one of the sculptures, muttering, "Trash like this should be thrown away… Oh sh*t, sh*t, sh*t!"
He registered the cold, solid feel and the heavy weight of the sculpture. Instantly, he realized how valuable it was—and he had thought that these things were trash!
The treasure hunters who had just been fooled had learned their lesson. Someone yelled, "Don't try the same trick twice, Big Fox! We won't fall for it again!"
Hans ignored them. He picked up one of the sculptures to show Li Du. "Look what I found! These are absolute masterpieces!" he cried out.
Li Du gestured for him to calm down. "We're experienced treasure hunters. We've seen a lot. Don't make a big fuss out of nothing."
One by one, the sculptures that looked like inflatable toys were moved out of the storage unit. The treasure hunters outside stirred.
"My God, my Father! These aren't just toys?! These are d*mn sculptures!"
"I've never seen sculptures like this before. Who made them? They should be quite valuable, right?"
"These aren't just any sculptures! My God, they're ceramic sculptures! There's no way I'd mistake them—these are Brett Kern's ceramic 'inflatable toys!'"
Li Du had no idea what they were either. He thought that they had been sculpted out of the carving tools, but it seemed as if that wasn't so.
There had been more than fifty of the sculptures in the storage unit. He picked up a red triceratops and extended it to the middle-aged man who had recognized them. "Tell me what they are, and I'll give you one."
The middle-aged man was overjoyed. "Really?"
Hans recognized the guy. He cut in and asked, "Carter, how much are each of these worth?"
The middle-aged man replied honestly, "The price depends on the size, but each of them can sell for at least 1,000 dollars. They're sold at twice that price at the New York Clay Gallery."
The treasure hunters all gasped; the sound of the cold wind whistling through their mouths filled the air.
Li Du handed him the triceratops. "Go on. If your explanation satisfies me, it's yours."
"This guy is really generous," someone muttered.
Someone retorted, "If I had this many, I'd be willing to give everyone here at least one."
Hans glared daggers at him. "Hey, Little Ross—don't talk big. Since each piece is about 1,000 dollars, and there are fifty-odd pieces here, they're probably worth about 50,000 dollars in total. You have at least 50,000 dollars, don't you? How about giving each of us 1,000 dollars?"
Little Ross slipped off, humiliated.
Carter carried on. "We all know that good skills and the proper use of tools can make a lump of clay look like virtually anything. Brett Kern is a master of this art."
"This is the work of a master?" Hans cut him off.
"Yes," Carter shrugged. "But this sculptor is still alive, and in the prime of his life. He's really into making interesting baubles like this, so you shouldn't expect his work to be that valuable."
Li Du waved a hand at Hans to silence him. "Just listen to him."
Carter coughed before continuing. "Brett really likes kids, so he created a series of ceramic toy animals. They look fascinatingly like soft, inflatable toys.
"Look—when he made these, Brett intentionally made folds and creases like those of inflatable toys. On this dinosaur's body, arms, and legs, there are faint, tell-tale wrinkles made to look like plastic that has been stretched out. Isn't it realistic?"
"It looks just like the real thing. It fooled all of us," exclaimed the treasure hunters.
Carter patted the ceramic triceratops. "Yes. He also applies a layer of high-gloss glaze to make the toys appear more similar to soft, smooth plastic. Big Fox is right. They are masterpieces, not just toys.
Li Du nodded in affirmation. "Very good. The masterpiece you're holding is yours now."
Carter smiled. "You are very generous."
This was what Li Du wanted: to improve their image. He had realized that the other treasure hunters were very hostile towards Hans and himself, and that wouldn't do. This trade needed a lot of connections.
But humans were like that. They would become jealous when others were better than them. Only when others far surpassed them would that jealousy become respect.
Before Li Du and Hans had grown to become worthy of the other treasure hunters' respect, they needed to be humble and make friends with these people, and follow the teachings of his ancestors: "Keep one group close, alienate the next, and put down the rest."
The most valuable things in the storage unit were the fifty-odd ceramic sculptures. Hans wrapped them carefully in old clothes and put them in cardboard boxes before loading them onto the truck. They cleaned the place up quickly, then moved on to the next storage unit.
The other treasure hunters followed them. When they passed by the second storage unit, Little Cerci had his shirt off, buried in menial work.
The sight of him had the other treasure hunters roaring with laughter.
"Little Cerci, what are you sticking your *ss out for? You look just like a hen digging for worms."
"Ha-ha! Man, you've become a porter. Not a bad one either. Go on!"
"He looks more like a cleaner to me. Man, Li and Big Fox got 50,000 dollars worth of ceramic art!"
Little Cerci flung a broken chair towards the entrance. "F*ck, you d*mn idiots," he roared, "stop buzzing around here. Get lost and eat sh*t!"
Li Du didn't even think about mocking him further. Their statuses were too different, and he would have been degrading himself.
The most valuable things in the last unit were the Barbie dolls and some other toys. The treasure hunters waited eagerly. When they realized that the toys were the only valuable things in the unit, they left in disappointment.
Of course, they felt much more happiness than disappointment. Hans and Li Du earning next to nothing from the second storage made them feel like life was fair.