Chapter 13 – Business Deal
Inside the spacious tent, both parties sat down as host and guests, respectively. The carpet covering the entire floor of the tent was soft and cozy, the tent walls were decorated with embroidered tapestry of multi colors; rich, elegant, and grand. In the middle was a basket of all kinds of fresh fruits. The dinnerware was famous Persian utensils, filled with large pieces of savory goat meat, putting the host’s luxurious, tastefully chosen lifestyle and habits on full display.
A group of seven of Ma Ji’s men sat behind him. Every man’s face was expressionless, vastly different from Ma Ji’s style of talking cheerfully and wittily, politely treating the guests.
Ma Ji untiringly introduced his men one by one in details. One of them was called Tuoba Miefu, a young swordsman from Dangxiang [Tangut branch of the Qiang ethnic group]. This person attracted the three men’s attention the most, not only because he looked lofty and handsome, but even more, it was because his bearing, his movement and stillness, everything displayed a first-class martial art master’s air and self-confidence.
Shuwen was right. Ma Ji was definitely not a person that was easy to deal with.
After some polite exchanges, Ma Ji raised his cup and said, “This cup is for me, Ma Ji, to apologize to three Dage. The Yan Yuan Ji affair, it was completely beyond my control. Ay! Other people was the prairie overlord considering himself unexcelled in the world, while Ma Ji is only small businessman rushing to and fro to make a living. If he wants me to go east, I’ll have to go east; he wants me to go west, I’ll have to go west. What can Ma Ji do? However, I steadfastly refused to participate in that affair. Fortunately the three gentlemen’s ability is outstanding; you broke the siege and left, so that Ma Ji won’t have to bear a lifetime of regret.”
The three already fixed a plan in their hearts that whatever he said, everybody would raise his cup and drink. What they were drinking was, naturally, fine wine made of Xiangshui rice.
Ba Fenghan said with a laugh, “This time we came here really is not to argue about this matter with Ji Ye [master]; rather, we’d like to discuss two business deals.”
Ma Ji pulled the dagger that was inserted into the roasted goat meat, cut three pieces of the meat and offered it to the three, before cheerfully said, “Hearing ‘business’ two characters [sheng yi], I, Ma Ji immediately am excited. Ay! Life is getting harder and harder! I have huge expenditures, if I don’t strive to make money, how am I going to deal with it?”
When speaking, he was still smiling wholeheartedly, so that the two big chunks of fatty meat inside his cheeks were constantly shaking and jolting following his abundant-with-many-postures facial expression.
Kou Zhong inwardly cursed this fat fox, since by saying that, he stated clearly that he would not do any business that nibbled away at his capital. With a slight smile, he said, “Doing business naturally there will be profit and loss. But Ji Ye may feel reassured, we will definitely not make Ji Ye compensating for the loss with your old capital.”
Hearing that, Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling were amused inwardly. Although Kou Zhong was very polite, he was actually opposing each other with equal harshness [idiom], pressing in step-by-step.
Ma Ji chuckled and said, “It’s rare that Shaoshuai is so fair and reasonable. Whatever it is, just tell Ma Ji; as far as Ma Ji’s capabilities extend, I will certainly do it for Shaoshuai.”
Kou Zhong cheerfully said, “Then I’ll be straightforward as well: we want to buy back Zhai Da Xiaojie’s eighty-thousand sheets of sheepskin and the Pingyao merchants’ batch of goods. Ji Ye, please do not hesitate to name your price. If the gold in our purse is not enough, I am afraid we will have to raise money by asking Tuli for the deficiency.”
Ma Ji did not show the slightest bit of reaction on Kou Zhong’s threat by referencing Tuli; he asked in astonishment, “I really don’t know which batch of goods Shaoshuai is talking about? Ba Xiong ought to know more clearly the horse thieves’ technique and style. For instance, if they have the eighty-thousand sheets of sheepskin in their hands, certainly they won’t sell it to one party; instead, they would scatter the goods around, so that other people cannot trace the source, moreover, the goods would pass through many middlemen. I, Ma Ji, have never inquired about the source of the goods; I only know that if there’s any business, then I’ll do it; if there’s any profit to get, then I’ll do the transaction using real gold and white silver.”
Disdain grew in Xu Ziling’s heart; he knew that Ma Ji would not easily submit and cooperate with them. He coldly said, “In that case, what kind of goods is currently in Ji Ye’s hands?”
Ma Ji took a fragrant pear, brought it to his mouth, and then he took a big bite and chewed noisily. Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he said, “Whatever goods Xu Xiong wants, I, Ma Ji, will do my best to supply it. In this aspect, I, Ma Ji dare to brag that nobody does it better than me. As for the price, we’ll decide it by the cost of the goods, I, Ma Ji will be perfectly satisfied to make a 30% profit.”
Kou Zhong stretched out lazily and said, “It seems to me that we cannot close these two business deals. Ji Ye really know how to do business; I only hope that Ji Ye can continue making profit and will never lose money. Ha!”
Ma Ji slightly shrugged his shoulders; he was about to speak when Ba Fenghan spoke one step ahead of him, “I hear that currently Bai Ziting suffers serious shortage of bows and arrows. Ji Ye understands business very much, you shouldn’t miss this good opportunity; you should go make a profit from this deal with Bai Ziting!”
Finally Ma Ji’s countenance changed slightly; his squinting-to-become-two-slits eyes suddenly grew big, emitting sharp rays of light, but the eyes quickly returned to their original state. Spitting the piece of fragrant pear in his mouth, he spoke heavily, “I, Ma Ji have never dealt business in weapons or military equipment. Although the profit is huge, it’s not a good business. Longquan has many blacksmiths, if Bai Ziting is out of stock, he could simply order them to make some.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Ji Ye must not mislead us. Perhaps Longquan’s internal supply can deal with ordinary situation, but definitely not enough to deal with various elite squads that may invade his territory at any time. It would be best if Ji Ye move a bit faster. If misfortune brings disaster to the fish in the moat, it really is not worth it for the innocence. If you are being misunderstood as Bai Ziting’s weapon supplier, your only way out is to hope that Bai Ziting would become another Xieli; otherwise, Ji Ye’s livelihood will certainly be in trouble.”
Ma Ji’s countenance changed again. If the three leaked the information that he supplied bows and arrows to Bai Ziting, due to the three had close relationship with Tuli, he would certainly have to pack his food and leave before finished eating; much less he was already harboring ulterior motives.
Unable to suppress the sudden surge of emotion in his heart, he gasped for breath and said with a sigh, “Three Dage, please be magnanimous, let me, this small businessman off. Three gentlemen won’t want me to sustain losses, will you? Whatever you want, please make a list, and give me one-month time to take care of it. Whatever price that others give me, Ma Ji will pass it to the three gentlemen at cost, I won’t make half a penny profit. Three Dage should be satisfied!”
Ba Fenghan let out a loud, long laughter, the divine light in his eyes was flashing, he stared at Ma Ji and said, “We still can’t come to an agreement, Ji Ye may just consider us never come here!”
The three stood up at the same time.
Ma Ji’s men were afraid they might make their move, they also stood up. The atmosphere suddenly become drawn-sword-bent-bow.
Ma Ji hastily said, “Whatever it is, we can discuss it.”
The three knew clearly in their heart that the one Ma Ji was afraid of was Tuli, not them. Based on Ma Ji’s current strength, although it might not be enough to detain them, it was more than enough to protect Ma Ji.
Ma Ji slowly stood up. The murderous intent in his pair of eyes was flashing but it quickly died, replaced by a smiling expression. Speaking patiently in low voice, he said, “If we all accommodate each other, what business deal we can’t possibly discuss? Three gentlemen, please speak out the proposal that will satisfy you, Ma Ji will see whether I can meet your request.”
Ba Fenghan smiled and said, “Before Ji Ye goes to bed tonight, think about it carefully. Our request is not unreasonable at all. Whatever is ours should be ours. So sorry for disturbing you tonight!”
Finished speaking he took the lead the exit the tent. Without looking back at all, the three left the camp.
Hiding in the forest, the three looked at Ma Ji’s camp in the distance.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “After receiving our threat, what do you think Ma Ji’s reaction will be?”
The murderous intent in Ba Fenghan’s pair of eyes was flaring, he coldly said, “His only way out right now is to prevent anybody from catching the evidence that he is selling weapon to Bai Ziting, so that when in the future Tuli is looking for him to give him bad luck, he can still quibble.”
Xu Ziling said, “If what Guan Ping said is true, the batch of bows and arrows should still be on the way to Longquan. Ma Ji ought to immediately send his men to take care of it, to change the route, or perhaps break up the shipment into pieces and transport it separately, or something like that. But how come we have been waiting here for two sichen, and still we don’t see any movement on his side? At least he ought to send someone to inform Bai Ziting.”
Ba Fenghan explained, “Ma Ji is an old fox. For the last many years, he has painstakingly established good relationship with major tribal chiefs of various regions for mutual benefit, that’s why he gets along well with everybody. You can ask Tuli, see whether Ma Ji from time to time sent him gifts of beautiful women, precious things or some toys. He can’t possibly offend Tuli or us for Bai Ziting’s sake; therefore, he can’t possibly tell Bai Ziting about us. For this man, greed has become second nature; he can’t possibly pass any opportunity to make money. Now his only desire is to deliver the goods and receive the payment from Bai Ziting as quickly as possible, and then find a secluded distant place to lie low temporarily. This has been his usual style.”
Kou Zhong hatefully said, “Ma Ji is not only cunning, he is also extremely careful. If he only makes his move tomorrow, are we going to wait here until dawn?”
Ba Fenghan smiled and said, “Leave this bow and arrow matter to me. Don’t forget, I am an expert in torturing method, and then I can make them forget what happened. As long as we can figure out how that batch of goods is being delivered, we can play with Ma Ji and Bai Ziting on the palm of our hands.”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “We advance together, we retreat together; how could we leave you here to endure it alone?”
Ba Fenghan said, “I am a hunter; although I am hunting horse thieves, I have to have more patience than any hunter. Tomorrow you have an appointment with Luo Yi and Ou Liangcai, you also have to see Yuekepeng; how could you accompany me keeping watch over here?”
Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “Be a bit more careful! We are waiting for your good news in Longquan.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, in their true colors, arrived at the packed dining hall of the Dao Xiang Guan. Luo Yi and Ou Liangcai, eager and hopeful, were waiting for the two.
To them, Kou Zhong and the others were the life-saving sweet spring in the dry desert, their only hope of survival.
After sitting down, the four ate and talked.
Kou Zhong said, “There is a bit of progress; your batch of goods has not changed hands yet, there is a very high chance that we could get it back for you shortly.”
Luo Yi and Ou Liangcai were overjoyed at the unexpected good news; they were so grateful that tears fell off their eyes.
“Did you see Guan Ping this morning?” Xu Ziling asked casually.
Unconcerned, Luo Yi replied, “When we went out this morning, we came across him, coming back from the outside. His expression was weird; he did not even greet us, as if he did not see us.”
Hearing that, the two looked at each other in dismay. Those who could dissolve his acupoint, other than they, there was only the ‘Tianzhu Mad Monk’ Funantuo, one person. In just one night he was able to break Ba Fenghan’s unique school’s acupoint sealing method, he was not simple at all; their impression on this person had to be reevaluated.
Kou Zhong’s heart was moved, he asked in detail about the situation of the guesthouse, as well as the location of Guan Ping’s room; and then he said, “When we have good news, we will come to see you.”
Pulling Xu Ziling up, they simply left.
Setting foot on the beyond-the-border’s Vermillion Bird Boulevard, they joined the stream of people. Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “You are not going to torture Guan Ping again, are you?”
Kou Zhong roared in laughter; he said, “Ling Shao’s one guess hits the mark. Just think, Funantuo was so anxious to dissolve Guan Ping’s sealed acupoint, surely it was because he thought there is a great enemy from Tianzhu crossing ten thousand crags and torrents coming here to look for him, hence he had to wake Guan Ping up to investigate. There is a good chance that we’d be able to pull something useful from Guan Ping’s mouth.”
Xu Ziling did not understand, “Aren’t you afraid to beat the grass and scare the snake?” he asked, “If it implicates other people, wouldn’t you try to be clever and end up with egg on your face?”
Wrapping his arm across Xu Ziling’s shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “With Old Ba’s unique skill of torture, Guan Ping would only consider it as a nightmare.”
Xu Ziling was surprised, “When did Old Ba pass on to you that kind of torture method by locking someone’s throat?” he asked.
Very proud of himself, Kou Zhong spoke with flair, “You think we are still two little delinquents back in Yangzhou? As long as we know the principle behind it, we could draw a gourd from the model [idiom: to copy something mechanically without attempt at originality]. Old Ba’s technique is to reduce the blood flow into the brain; as long as we copy the technique, and then afterwards we knock him unconscious, I guarantee that his little brain will not function properly, and he will forget everything that has happened.”
And then muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “Do you remember one time we had a fight in Yangzhou, I got hit on the back of my head quite heavily, afterwards I completely forgot about the fight. It was the same principle. Human can only remember things firmly under normal circumstances. As we get older, our memory is more likely to decline; everything is related to the brain. Ha!”
Xu Ziling was helpless to deal with him, he had no choice but to say, “All right!”
Leading him in the direction of the guesthouse, Kou Zhong said, “If we could really get our hands on that batch of bows and arrows, we could even use it for other purposes as well, to rip off Bai Ziting and Ma Ji separately; we could bully them well this time.”
Xu Ziling nodded in agreement.
According to Guan Ping, the quantity of these bows and arrows was huge, enough to defend the city of Longquan for a year. Therefore, for Bai Ziting, this was a matter of life and death for the Bohai Kingdom. Its value ought to be above the eighty-thousand sheets of sheepskin plus the Pingyao merchants’ batch of goods.
Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, “But this game is not easy to play; several dozens cartload of bows and arrows, where can we hide them?”
“Why not ask for Bielegunatai brothers’ help?” Xu Ziling said.
Kou Zhong vigorously slapped his back and said with a laugh, “Ling Shao’s brain is still more nimble. Ah! I suddenly realize that this Little Chang’an is very lovely, and it is very fascinating.”
“Aren’t you anxious because of Shang Xiufang?” Xu Ziling spoke in low voice.
Kou Zhong was dejected, “Because I was so excited just now, for a moment I forgot about her. You, this kid, are so mean.”
Xu Ziling’s tiger-body suddenly shook severely, he looked ahead in disbelief.
Following his gaze, Kou Zhong also looked; immediately he was dumbstruck as well.
A man and two women were riding along the street. The man was handsome, the women were tender and pretty; they were extremely eye-catching.