Chapter 4 – Stealing Openly Robbing Stealthily
Book 13 Chapter 4 – Stealing Openly Robbing Stealthily
Because it was noon, the lower level of Dongjia Restaurant was packed; it was so crowded that it was impossible to even squeeze a needle through it.
Kou Zhong was back to the same old stuff; he whispered Lang Feng’s name in the waiter’s ear. The waiter immediately became reverent and respectful, as he led them to a comfortable lounge on the wing of the third floor of the restaurant.
Kou Zhong sat down by the window. Looking at the boats coming and going along the Luo River below, he sighed and said, “This is the benefit of having power; just by touching the edge a little bit, we can be a cut above others.”
Ba Fenghan laughed and said, “No matter how noble and virtuous you are calling yourself, you cannot deny that those so-called noble and virtuous must have powerful support behind their back; otherwise, how could they be noble and virtuous?”
Seeing Xu Ziling was staring at him in displeasure, Kou Zhong quickly surrendered. “I was just taking advantage of the little convenience power can bring,” he said, “I will never bully other people, or make an attempt to take away the justice that power brings. Ha!”
Ba Fenghan laughed and said, “Comparatively speaking, Zhong Shao and I are somewhat boorish, unlike Ziling who is suave and aloof.”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly without saying anything.
Kou Zhong’s spirit greatly aroused, he said, “Now the struggle between Wang Shichong and Yang Dong has reached stalemate, we can set it aside for the time being. Hey! As for the Jade Annulus of He Clan, ha! Ziling, you’ve got to help me.”
“Why did you ask Ziling only?” Ba Fenghan wondered, “Why not me?”
Stunned, Kou Zhong replied, “Ol’ Ba, you have nothing to do with this matter, why would you gamble your life away with me? It is precisely because I consider you my brother that I do not wish to implicate you. Aren’t your own trouble still too much?”
Xu Ziling also looked at Ba Fenghan in consternation.
Whether it was Ning Daoqi or Shi Feixuan, both were formidable opponent that no one would dare to provoke. If Kou Zhong were not in such a critical juncture between success and failure, he would not have even dreamed of offending them.
But now he simply had no choice.
Ba Fenghan was speechless for half a day. After sweeping the two boys with his gaze, his sharp eyes gleamed with some kind unusual emotion, as he spoke slowly, “It’s because I love to hang out with you, two kids. Moreover, the more I hang out with you, the more I feel the excitement, satisfying my interest; all because we share similar background and childhood years. The ones I hated the most are those people from respectable schools and big clans. I loathe those Jianghu school and sect people who think of themselves as supreme beings even more. Therefore, I helped you dealing with Changshu Mou the other day. I just can’t stand that kind of people, who believe themselves infallible, with their condescending, overbearing attitude.”
A short pause, and then he continued, “The ones I admired the most are true hero who, not having anything at all, bring about epoch achievement. Supposing Li Shimin and you two were in each other’s shoes, would he be able to obtain your achievements? I just cannot stand by idly and watch this kind of thing. Ha! Challenging Ning Daoqi or perhaps Shi Feixuan would be the thing I want to do. How could I, Ba Fenghan, miss this kind of golden opportunity?”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “With Ba Xiong’s assistance, we, two brothers, are like a tiger that has grown wings.”
With a wry smile Xu Ziling said, “I always have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. When all is said and done, Shi Feixuan is simply striving for the benefit of the people under the heavens …”
Ba Fenghan coldly interrupted him, “Ziling is too obstinate. Only by asking those few questions, how could she decide whether certain person would make a good emperor? Furthermore, I always feel that only someone with poverty-stricken background would be qualified to be a good emperor. Those who understand the people’s pain and difficulties very well would have the zeal to get rid of the people’s pain and difficulties.”
Kou Zhong slapped the table and shouted with praised, “Han Shao said it well. Emperor Qin and Emperor Gaozu of Han are a good example. The former was born of aristocracy, the latter was born of common people [lit. plain cotton clothing]. Which one was the good emperor, is an indisputable historical fact. Ha!”
Staring at him in displeasure, Xu Ziling said, “So you are sure you will be a good emperor?”
“What do you think?” Kou Zhong asked in return.
Xu Ziling was left speechless.
His eyes shone, Kou Zhong said, “I have come to the point that even if I know perfectly well that I am going to throw away my life, I simply cannot turn around. To vie over the world, one must be completely unscrupulous. Just like Han Shao said, even if Tianhuang Laozi [the old emperor of heaven], Taishang Laojun [title of respect for Lao-tze, the founder of Taoism], Rulai Fozu [Tathagata Buddha] are standing on the road, I must kick them out of my way. The Jade Annulus of the He Clan, we simply must obtain. Otherwise, if it fell into Li kid’s hand, it would be tantamount to forcing him to rebel against his old Die and his older brother.”
“It would be best if Shi Feixuan already gave the Jade Annulus of the He Clan to Li Shimin,” Ba Fenghan said, “Snatching it away would be a bit easier.”
His gaze fixed on Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong said, “Are you or are you not willing to help me? Don’t forget. Hee! One lifetime two brothers!”
Other than smiling ruefully, what else could Xu Ziling do?
Ba Fenghan said, “Now we must investigate clearly whether the Jade Annulus of the He Clan is in Li Shimin’s hand or not before making our move.”
“That is extremely simple,” Kou Zhong said, “If Li Shimin obtained the Jade Annulus of the He Clan, he would immediately depart Luoyang in secret. Therefore, as long as we closely watch his movements, we would obtain our clues.”
Ba Fenghan’s eyes shone with cold rays. He said, “I heard that Li Shimin has obtained the teachings handed-down by Li Yuan himself, so he really know a thing or two, plus the capable people working under him are numerous. If we cut him off along the way, we would lose our advantage. Therefore, stealing will be the better strategy, robbing openly would not be an effective strategy.”
Heaving a sigh of relief, Xu Ziling added, “If we do not need to rob the jade annulus from Shi Feixuan’s hand, we still have the hope to succeed.”
Kou Zhong wrapped his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulder and pulled him closer as he spoke in great delight, “Ling Shao, what you said has given me much comfort. In my opinion, there is 90% chance that Shi Feixuan would favor Li Shimin. This guy’s outward appearance easily beat the long-haired-like-a-ghost Li Mi, or perhaps the wily-old-fox Wang Shichong. Too bad I have not stuck out my head, so that that Li kid is under no threat of competition at all.”
Bursting out laughing, Ba Fenghan said, “Speaking of tooting his own horn, nobody in the world can come close to you. All right! Enough chitchat. Leave the duty of watching Li Shimin closely to me. He has some connection with Dong Ming Pai, we’ll meet again tonight between the you [10th earthly branch, 5-7pm] and xu [11th earthly branch, 7-9pm] hours, and then we’ll decide what to do next.”
This moment the waiter arrived with food and drink. Ba Fenghan took a steamed bun and left without saying anything.
Chapter 4- Part 2
While gobbling up the food, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Who could have thought that that Ba kid is such a true friend; it is really unexpected.”
Heaving a deep sigh, Xu Ziling said, “We have not found Yucheng and the others; aren’t you worried?”
Kou Zhong put down his bowl, empty with no single rice remained, and said with a wry smile, “In this kind of thing, worrying is not worth a fart. Fortunately the four of them have received our hand-down teachings, so the Heaven helps the worthy. Who knows, perhaps as soon as we go down the stairs, we’ll see them eating. Let us go to the agreed meeting place and then the outcome will become apparent.”
Xu Ziling said, “Do you remember that man called Xu Xingzhi? Didn’t you agree to meet him in Luoyang?”
Kou Zhong nodded, “Of course I do,” he replied, “This man is a natural talent in commanding the army. I already left some markings at the appointed place. When he sees it tomorrow morning, he will be waiting for me at the specified place. Let me, Zhong Shao, do the work, and you, Ling Shao, set your heart at ease.”
And then he added, “I have neither likes nor dislikes toward that Li kid, so fighting him face to face is not a big deal. But we have been brothers with Li Jing; this is what gives me headache.”
Xu Ziling was silent for half a day. He quietly thought that whatever resentment he had against Li Jing, in the end it would be difficult for him to have any malicious intention toward him. Thereupon he said dejectedly, “As long as you promise me one thing, I will help you get the Jade Annulus of the He Clan wholeheartedly.”
“As long as it is reasonable and fair, how could I not promise you?” Kou Zhong guardedly replied, “You just have to help me in this. If Li kid can’t even defend the Jade Annulus of He Clan, it would greatly change Shi Feixuan and Ning Daoqi’s impression on him.”
“You must never underestimate the enemy,” Xu Ziling crossly said, “Li kid is well versed in both literature and martial art [or civil and military]. No matter how you look at it, he is superior to us, not inferior. It’s just that he falls short of you in the craftiness department. Once we are not careful, the boat will capsize in the ditch.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “He is as cunning as I am, but it is possible that he is not as flexible and pragmatic as us. We need to be intentionally unintentional. Especially since this is Wang Shichong’s territory. Currently Wang Shichong and me are like honey to the bee. I only need to move a finger, Li kid may forget of leaving Luoyang alive.”
And then his eyes flashed a deep, cold murderous intent, as he spoke in heavy voice, “Li Clan without Li Shimin is just like a tiger without sharp claw, sharp teeth; any viciousness is gone. Do you understand?”
Forcing a smile, Xu Ziling said, “That is precisely my condition. Li kid exposed his whereabouts because of me, so you must not use this opportunity to kill him. If you want to kill him, you must wait for the next opportunity.”
Kou Zhong was stunned for half a day. Finally he sighed and said, “One lifetime two brothers; what can I say? Very well! I will face him on the battlefield in the future; whoever lose will have nobody to blame.”
And then he took out a roll of silk map from his bosom, removed the bowls, chopsticks and other things away from the table, and spread out the map, saying, “I’ll let you take a look at this treasure. If after reaching Guanzhong, Zhanliang, Fengyi and the others are able to give me a sheet of similar thingy, nothing could be better than that.”
Ban Zhanliang, Niu Fengyi, and Zha Jie, three men were the three Inner Hall Masters of the Shuanglong Bang [twin-dragon gang, Book 6 Chapter 12, only it was ‘Gao Zhandao, not Ban Zhanliang] that they established. According to plan, they ought to precede the two boys going to Chang’an in secret, to do the preparatory work in digging out the ‘Duke Yang’s Treasure’ later.
Taking a closer look, Xu Ziling saw that it was the map of Luoyang City, complete with the streets, squares, rivers and bridges, city gate towers, and everything else depicted in detail.
Astounded, he said, “Wang Shichong really trusts you.”
Smiling, Kou Zhong said, “It’s not that he trusts me, but he is showing trust in order to buy me, and I pretend to love Dong Shuni deeply. Actually, on the surface this man Wang Shichong looks naïve and honest, but he is a wily old fox. What he shows on the surface, quite another is in his heart. He is capable of not making neither movement nor noise, and then only after everything is arranged will he let you know what’s going on.”
Xu Ziling examined the relationship between the Palace City and the Imperial City with rapt attention. His heart moved, he said, “Li Shimin came to Luoyang this time, could he have other reason than for the Jade Annulus of the He Clan affair? Do you remember that Ol’ Ba once said that Li kid’s old man Li Yuan wanted to get Dong Shuni as his imperial concubine? If this matter succeeded, it would be like Li Yuan and Wang Shichong are forming an alliance. Your ‘counting one’s chicken before they are hatched’ plan of using Wang Shichong to deal with Li Shimin will misfire!”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Don’t worry! For this chick, Dong Shuni, rebelling has become second nature. Every time Wang Shichong arranged any man for her, she always refuses to accept. If I can exploit her mentality, maybe I can destroy the relationship between Li Yuan and Wang Shichong.”
And then, thinking out loud he muttered, “How can we steal the Jade Annulus of the He Clan without anybody knowing that we do it? Ha! I got it! I almost forget that you are the Scarface Hero, and I am your sidekick, the Pockmarked Face Bandit.”
Startled, the two boys looked at the door. They were greatly alarmed; just from the fact that even though this person was just behind the door, yet he still managed to hide from the two boys’ ears, they knew that this person was by no means ordinary.
“Please come in!” Kou Zhong shouted.
There was no reaction from the outside at all.
Kou Zhong sprang up, darted toward the door and pulled the door open.
Immediately the sound of people drinking, laughing and playing finger-guessing game flooded into their ears like a rushing tide, but they did not see anybody, not even a waiter, either outside the door or along the corridor.
Koo Zhong withdrew, stuck his big head out and looked left and right, and closed the door. His countenance changed, he said, “This is bad!”
Xu Ziling was frightened as well; he spoke in heavy voice, “Could it be Ning Daoqi or Shi Feixuan was standing outside the door, eavesdropping our conversation?”
Returning to his side and sitting down, Kou Zhong blew out a mouthful of cold air and said, “I think we can relax. Ay! I am only talking about he is eavesdropping outside the door. Because there are people coming and going along the corridor all the time, only a moment ago there was no one, so he took the opportunity to warn us. Obviously he has been watching us for a while.”
Xu Ziling could not help his scalp from tingling; he said in low voice, “This person, at least in term of qinggong, is superior to us. Problem is if the opposite party is either Shi Feixuan or Ning Daoqi, your grand plan to steal the treasure is destined to fail.”
Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “I can guarantee that this person could not hear us. Because with you, Ling Shao, in here, nobody can evade your keen intuition. Secondly, the doors of this restaurant are of very high quality, it has high degree of sound-proofing property, plus we deliberately talked in low voice …”
The door was knocked again. Just like before, there was no other sound, not even footsteps.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “Only by using the ‘win by a surprise move’ tactic will we be able to regain the initiative and can’t be led by the nose by others. Hey! How about pretending to be cowards?”
Xu Ziling’s mind was interlinked with Kou Zhong’s. After exchanging glances, they put down some silver and folded back the silk map. Laughing aloud, like a wisp of smoke the two boys disappeared via the window. First, they leaped up onto the roof, and then traversed the more-than-ten-zhang of empty space, and landed in an alley by the bridge, which was crowded with residential buildings. With several leaps, up and down, they were already far away from the restaurant.
This moment, a ‘thousand-beauty, hundred-charm’, petite and nimble, young girl appeared on the roof. Staring hatefully at the direction the two boys disappeared, she stomped her feet, gnashed her teeth and said, “I want to see where can you flee? The moment the Jade Annulus of He Clan falls into your hands is the moment you are going to die.”
Kou Zhong took Xu Ziling to a multi-story building on which door was carved ‘Luoyang Square’, three characters [luo yang fang]. Behind the building was precisely the Luo River, which cut across the City of Luoyang from west to east.
Very proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, “This time I am confident that the opponent would not be able to follow us. In my opinion, the person knocking the door was definitely not Shi Feixuan or Ning Daoqi, because they are followers of Dhyana [Zen] Way, who are particular about ‘touching something and leave it there’; how could they do such a lowly deed like knocking on our door twice?”
Xu Ziling nodded in agreement, “But still,” he commented, “This person is definitely not an easy opponent. The most difficult to deal with is that we do not even know whether this person is a man or a woman. He is hidden in the dark while we are completely exposed, hence we are absolutely at his mercy.”
Reaching out, Kou Zhong put his hand on Xu Ziling’s shoulder and said with a giggle, “We were using the technique Ol’ Ba taught us, dodging to the left and fleeing to the right in downtown area for more than half a sichen, if we still cannot throw him off, we, two brothers, could only accept misfortunes as decreed by fate!”
The two boys entered the long and narrow alley. Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, “Where are you taking me?”
“Home, of course!” Kou Zhong replied cheerfully.
Xu Ziling was stunned, “Home?” he asked.
While walking along, Kou Zhong focused his attention to listen to any movement in the houses on both sides of the alley. Giggling, he said, “The two of us are the Bangzhu [gang leader] of the Shuanglong Bang; how could we not have even one secret lair? Ha! Right! In here! Come in, please!”
Xu Ziling’s eyes followed Kou Zhong, who was jumping over the wall and entered in, absentmindedly before it dawned on him.
Before the two boys and Gao Zhanliang [sic] and the others separately went up north, Kou Zhong and their subordinates had a discussion for a number of days, naturally one of the topic was setting up this hideout inside the city of Luoyang. And Kou Zhong must have seen secret markings left by Gao Zhanliang and the others, which indicated the direction and location of this address, hence he was able to find this place.
Thinking to this point, Xu Ziling could not help admiring Kou Zhong’s meticulous planning and attention to details. The biggest advantage of this secret hideout was to let the gang people know where to meet when they went to Luoyang.
Kou Zhong sat comfortably in a high-backed chair; raising his arms and sticking out his legs, he had a big stretch and said with a sigh, “This house is not bad!”
Sitting down across Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling looked out the window, at the small courtyard under the bright sunlight. “How come I can’t see even a speck of dust in this house?” he asked in astonishment, “Everything is clean and tidy, even the flowers and plants in the yard are neatly trimmed. Who’s taking care of it?”
Acting as if everything was as it should be, Kou Zhong said, “Don’t think that Zhanliang is just a boor; the fact is, he is extremely attentive. Only by doing this others won’t suspect anything. My guess is he’s hired people to clean it up on a regular basis; perhaps every three days, once every six days.”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “I still feel that something is not right.”
Right this moment, an alarm went off in the two boys’ hearts at the same time.
Wanwan’s soft and deep voice rang out from outside the door, “Ziling guessed correctly! Since I had nothing to do while waiting for you, I became edgy and cleaned up the house to pass the time!”
The two boys’ countenance changed immediately.
[Translator’s note: Huang Yi messed up names quite often. This time the original was ‘guan-guan’; however, since she was an important character, I decided to keep the name ‘Wanwan’.]