Three light sailboats pursued from behind, their speed far surpassed the Da Dao She’s two cargo ships, which sailed comparatively deep in the water. The distance between the two sides was constantly decreasing.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling came out of the cabin. The ill-intentioned sailboats were pressing in to within fifty zhang away; each boat was carrying seven, eight armed men. Their number was far less than Da Dao She’s two ships, which carried a total of more than one hundred men. However, just by looking at the tumultuous momentum with which the opponents were approaching, secured in the knowledge that they had backing, one would know that the newcomers did not even consider the Da Dao She to be worthy in their eyes.
Feng Ba, with Meng Degong, Su Yun, and the others, more than a dozen men crowding around him, was standing at the stern, staring fixedly with grave expression at the continuously approaching sailboats. The other men were holding bows and arrows and weapons at the ready, scattered around the ship, entering the battle-might-start-any-moment mode, waiting in strict battle formation.
The light of dawn was illuminating the Yongji Canal, the air was filled with murderous aura, the situation was as tense as taut bowstring on the verge of being released.
The two Da Dao She escorts who were guarding the cabin door did not dare to block the two because they had seen Kou Zhong’s skill, but they advised the other business people to stay inside the cabin.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling came behind Feng Ba and the others.
Feng Ba raised his voice and shouted, “Are the incomings friends from Huang He Bang [Yellow River Gang]? Xiaodi Feng Ba of Da Dao She. Our humble agency’s Da Dangjia [first chief] Qi Peng has always had friendly relations with your honorable gang’s Fu Bangzhu [deputy gang leader] ‘Living Zhuge’ [from Zhuge Liang] Wu Sansi, Wu Xiansheng. Whatever the problem is, your honorable gang only need to speak, Ol’ Feng will pay a visit to apologize humbly.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling naturally have heard Huang He Bang’s fame for fighting prowess; they were the biggest secret society on the Yellow River, ranked number one gang within the Eight Gangs Ten Societies in the world. Its prestige surpassed Hai Sha Bang, Jukun Bang and Da Jiang Hui. Although the two boys did not care about this kind of gang and society, they knew that this matter was really not simple.
It should be noted that this kind of big secret society would never do shady business of blocking-the-path-to-rob-the-travelers, plus they paid most attention to Jianghu relations and contacts, everything had to follow Jianghu rules; only by doing this would they be able to eat openly and have financial resources rolling in.
The incoming boats were slowing down at the same time, maintaining about a three-zhang distance. This moment both sides could see the other party’s appearance clearly.
On the middle sailboat a man of about twenty-seven, twenty-age came out from among the crowd and stood on the bow. Cupping his fist, he said, “Turns out the goods under escort this time is under Er Dangjia’s personal leadership, then it’s even better to speak. I am ‘Hong Ying Qiang’ [lit. Red Cherry Spear, dictionary has this definition: ancient spear-like weapon, decorated with a red tassel] Xi Jie, the Left Vanguard General under our humble Bangzhu, the ‘Great Roc’ Tao Guangzu. This time I came to disturb Er Dangjia, I already feel uncomfortable, asking Er Dangjia’s forgiveness.”
Hearing that, Feng Ba’s eyebrows were deeply knitted, he said in astonishment, “Five lakes and four oceans, all are brothers, not to mention that between us and your honorable gang there has always been friendly relations. Whatever it is, Xi Xiong may speak forthrightly without any inconvenience.”
Until this moment, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were still in the relaxed mood while enjoying watching a bustling scene, thinking that they would only make their move when necessary, to ensure that the Huang He Bang would be beaten and flee with their tail between their legs.
Xie Jie, with his forthright countenance, called out, “Good!” and then he said, “This matter is hard to explain in details. If Er Dangjia really consider us as friends, please ask the subordinate of our humble gang’s mortal enemy Meiyan Furen [lit. beautiful and alluring/glamorous/gorgeous lady/Madame], Duan Chu to come out, Xiongdi will immediately turn on my heels.”
Feng Ba unconsciously looked back, shooting a glance toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, before turning to Xi Jie and said, “There is no one with surname Duan, given name Chu, on out boat; I wonder what he looks like?”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were unsure whether they ought to be angry or amused; they knew that Feng Ba suspected that one of them was Duan Chu. But this was the first time that they heard the name Madame Meiyan, which was brimming with erotic, seductive impression; they could not help being greatly interested.
Xi Jie said, “We also only hear his name but have never seen him. The information came from an absolutely trustworthy spy of our humble gang, he is positive that this person has infiltrated your honorable agency’s escort team, and is harboring malice intention. If you could pull this person out, it would only bring benefit to your honorable agency without any harm.”
Feng Ba laughed aloud and said, “Who the Meiyan Furen’s man is, I don’t know, but suspicious characters, we have two. I wonder if Xi Xiong could move your good self to our boat to identify him. Stop them!”
The last sentence was obviously addressed to his men.
While Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were crying ‘Not good!’ inwardly, they were already surrounded. They could have disregarded everything and left, or even took Guan Ping with them. But Yu Sheng Chang would offend two big gangs in one move, the consequences would certainly be grave to the extreme point. The five hundred bolts of silk fabric on board was another problem that gave them headache. Furthermore, Feng Ba could carry out his ‘wicked scheme’ without the slightest scruple.
The biggest problem was that the two boys indeed harbored ulterior motives by posing as Guan Ping’s distant relatives, the sons of his male cousin via female line. Once this fact was confronted, inevitably they would not be able to cover their traces.
This was not something that could be solved by force.
Gusts of wind were heard, Xi Jie and five of his men leaped onto the cargo ship, and came to Feng Ba’s side.
Using his official authority for private interests [idiom], Feng Ba pointed to the two boys and thundered, “It’s these two men of unknown origin, who call themselves Fu Xiong and Fu Jie, who forcefully joined midway, who are the biggest suspects.”
The refined light in Xi Jie’s pair of eyes flashed continuously, he sized the two up with rapt attention.
Meeting his eyes, Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “That Duan Chu fellow whom Xi Lao’er [lit. old man] is looking for, how old is he? If you mistook Feng Jing as Ma Liang, you would only benefit Xi LaoGe’s archenemy in vain.”
Laughing coldly, Xi Jie said, “No need to sweet-talk me, our Huang He Bang has always differentiate gratitude and grudges clearly, we will never blame good people wrongly.” Turning to Feng Ba, he asked, “If they are of unknown origin, how could Er Dangjia let them come on board?”
Feng Ba replied, “They were recruited at the last moment by one of the customers of this escorted shipment, he also said they are distant relatives. Humph! I don’t believe it.”
Frowning, Xi Jie said, “Is it possibly to ask your honorable customer to come out to talk?”
Feng Ba nodded in agreement. He ordered one of his men into the cabin to look for Guan Ping.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling you look at me I look at you, momentarily they could not think of any way to deal with this matter.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. The worst-case scenario was to use force, which would, naturally, deepen the misunderstanding, and might destroy Guan Ping. Trying to be as friendly as possible, he said, “What was the exact time Xi Xiong received the information that Xi Xiong’s archenemy has infiltrated the escort team? Because we only came on board last night. This fact, Er Dangjia and anybody on board can testify.”
Xi Jie coldly said, “I am not afraid to tell you, the information came from a brother of our gang just before his death; he only said one thing, which is Duan Chu is mingling among this Da Dao She escort team.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, “Who would strike treacherously and kill Xi Xiong’s gang brother? Where did it happen?”
Both his countenance and his voice turned harsh, Xi Jie shouted, “Don’t call me Xiong or Di; even if your tongue is as resplendent as lotus flower, today you can forget about good ending.”
This moment, Guan Ping, whose countenance had turned pale, has arrived under escort, “What happened?” he spoke in trembling voice.
Kou Zhong hurriedly reminded him, “Biaoshu, don’t panic; as long as you explain our relationship …”
“Shut up!” Feng Ba cut him off sternly.
The vicious light in Xi Jie’s pair of eyes flared up, he glowered at Guan Ping and said, “I am Xi Jie of Huang He Bang, if Guan Xiansheng speaks one word of lies, I, Xi Jie, will definitely not let you off. Now tell me the truth, are these two really your relatives?”
Guan Ping was so scared that he nearly collapsed to the floor. Stammering, he said, “Daye, please spare my life, I don’t know; I really don’t know.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were flabbergasted. With heart and mind they were trying to help Guan Ping, yet unexpectedly in this critical moment Guan Ping betrayed them. Plus the stupid and cowardly appearance that he put on display right now was greatly beyond their expectation. It was as if this Guan Ping was a totally different person from the Guan Ping that they knew earlier. Inwardly they cried that something was not right.
Feng Ba appeared to be very proud of himself; his face showed a hint of cold smile.
Xi Jie’s pair of eyes shone even brighter. He scolded, “What do you mean you don’t know? Explain clearly.”
His voice trembling, Guan Ping said, “I ran into them outside the city, they said they want to earn some traveling expense. Ay! I saw them having good eyebrows and good appearance, plus they are strong and vigorous, they seem to have a skill or two, so …”
“What?” Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling blurted out in chorus.
Guan Ping hid behind Xi Jie, he blurted out, “You two deceived me really bad; are you trying to implicate me, this honorable businessman, to death?”
‘Qiang! Qiang!’ the sound of weapons being pulled lingered on faintly, as everybody, Xi Jie and Feng Ba included, pulled their weapons.
Brandishing his Red Cherry Spear, Xi Jie thundered, “What do you have to say for yourselves?”
Kou Zhong calmed down instead. He shook his head and smiled bitterly, “What else is there to say?” he said, “Please! I’m sure we’ll meet again someday.”
Just as the crowd was charging forward, the two rose straight up into the air. Ignoring their shaking-the-heavens shout and yell, they took a breath high up in the sky and flew toward the western bank.
※ ※ ※
The two sat down dejectedly in a snowy forest far away from Yongji Canal. Four eyes met, they roared into laughter at the same time; they laughed so hard that tears were streaming down their faces.
Gasping for breath, Kou Zhong said, “In vain have we always been proud of our intelligence and wisdom, unexpectedly a cheating stick beats the chicken feather and duck blood out of us, nearly making us cannot reincarnate forever.”
Leaning against a frosty pine tree trunk, Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Good fellow! He spoke with seven emotional states [in traditional Chinese medical theory and therapy, namely: joy, anger, anxiety, thought, grief, fear, and fright] on his face, moving us, these two idiots, to be willing to be his scapegoats. His Niang! I dare say that Da Dao She wanting to kill people and swallow the goods is just his fabricated lie. Unless Da Dao She intends to withdraw from Jianghu, why would they be stupid enough to smash their own rice bowl? Escort businesses rely on trustworthiness the most; why did we believe his lie firmly without any doubt?”
Thinking deeply, Kou Zhong said, “But Feng Ba did act like he was harboring ulterior motives [orig. there’s a ghost in his heart].”
Xu Ziling patted his knee vigorously and said with a smile, “Guan Ping is definitely the most brilliant fraudster we have encountered; he deceived us until we are confused and disoriented. Even whether he is really the Yu Sheng Chang’s boss or just a hired hand – is still a question that we forgot to ask. In fact, we know nothing about him at all. Isn’t this called underestimating the enemy?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “We have never regarded him as the enemy, so why should we underestimate the enemy? Ay! Yet this is clearly the worst mistake of underestimating the enemy in the game of chess. His Niang! I definitely don’t want to swallow and endure this quietly. In your opinion, is it possible that Guan Ping is precisely that Meiyan Furen somebody’s man, Duan Chu, that Xi Jie is looking for? Meiyan Furen, such a savory name that smells, looks, and tastes great. Hearing it, my heart itches to the death.”
Xu Ziling laughed heartily and said, “Destitute heart is not over yet, lecherous heart is already rising. Don’t forget that our financial situation has not improved even for half a penny, we still don’t have a wen to our name. Fortunately we were finally able to fill our stomach, so that we can last a few more days. After reaching Leshou, we will look for Guan Ping to settle this account; that place is Da Xiaojie’s territory, we will be able to move about a bit easier.”
Laughing to his heart’s content, Kou Zhong said, “This time we indeed met with unexpected failure, others were able to peek into our greatest weakness, which is our chivalrous character.”
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, “Don’t joke around; what are we going to do?”
Kou Zhong made a sign as if he was about to speak. He mused, “I wonder if there is any problem with the escorted goods itself? I am talking about Du Xing placing the order. Perhaps the goods were not ordered by Du Xing at all.”
Xu Ziling nodded. He said, “This is a cleverly arranged scam, and the escorted goods are accompanied by a fraudster. I don’t know how this secret was leaked to the Huang He Bang, and the fraudster also got wind about the leak, and thus he looked for two idiots to be the scapegoats. Guan Ping, oh, Guan Ping! You are so unbelievably formidable.”
“I wonder if he knew that you and I are Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling?” Kou Zhong said, “This morning in the cabin, it’s possible that he was only pretending to be sleeping. Ay! The more I think, the more I refuse to accept this. We will fight deceit with deceit; we will play a round with Meiyan Furen.”
The two shook hands, they shouted in unison, “Fight deceit with deceit!”
As outstanding heroes, they disdained to use force to deal with Duan Chu, hence they came up with this other fair way to make reprisals.
In Jianghu, the most loathed and despised kind of people was precisely the fraudsters.
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