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Fragrance in the Sea of Blood Chapter 5

CSI

Chapter 5 – 300,000 Taels

Suddenly a man – although dressed gorgeously, he had a roebuck-head, rat-eyed wretched impression on him, walked in a dodging and slinking way, into the hall. He bowed and smiled apologetically from far away, and said, “Shao Zhuangzhu [young banker (in gambling game) master], how are you?”

Leng Qiuhun’s countenance sank. With his hands behind his back, he strolled over and scolded the man with a frown on his face, “Cheng San, this is not a place you can visit.”

That man called Cheng San bowed from the waist and said, “How could Xiaoren [lowly/little one, referring to self] dare to come in as I wish? It’s just that …”

He narrowed his eyes and laughed conspiratorially, and said in low voice, “There was a big spender came to Xiao Cui’s place last night. In one evening, he spent thirty thousand. Xiaoren heard that his hands are itching, therefore, Xiaoren brought him here on Shaoye’s [young master] behalf.”

“Oh?” Leng Qiuhun said, “Who is he?”

Cheng San replied, “He is surnamed Zhang, called Zhang Xiaolin.”

Leng Qiuhun muttered to himself irresolutely, “Zhang Xiaolin, this name is so unfamiliar.”

Chang San said, “I hear he usually rarely entered the Pass, so …”

Leng Qiuhun spoke heavily, “What kind of people gamble in this place, you ought to know. Even if anybody without any history wanted to come here to lose some money, others might not agree to play with him.”

Smiling apologetically, Cheng San said, “Shaoye, don’t worry. Without any history, how could Xiaoren dare to bring here casually … This guest surnamed Zhang is the biggest ginseng merchant in the Changbai Mountain area. This time he came to Jinan, it is precisely to spend money and to look for some fun.”

Leng Qiuhun chuckled and said, “Turns out a ginseng picker. Let me take a look at him first …”

He lifted the door curtain off a slit and peeked out. He saw a man with purple face and short beard, with an imposing appearance, standing outside the door with his hands behind his back. He was holding two large steel balls, which continuously making ‘ding dang’ noise.

Although he was standing still, his manner was indeed quite imposing. Comparing him to the rest of the men in the hall, it was like a red-crown crane among the chicken.

Leng Qiuhun suddenly lifted the curtain completely and stepped into the hall in large strides. Cupping his fist, he said with a laugh, “Zhang Xiong came from afar, Xiaodi [little brother] did not receive the guest satisfactorily; by all means, please forgive me.”

With a hearty laugh he pulled this Zhang Xiaolin’s hand, as if it was familiarity at first sight.

This ‘Zhang Xiaolin’ was indeed a big spender who stake a thousand pieces of gold on one throw [fig. extravagant] without even blinking. The table was a Pai Gow table, he put a bet several times, and had lost fifty thousand taels.

The girls were swarming around him, fighting over each other to pour him wine, fighting over each other to open the domino tiles for him.

Zhang Xiaolin laughed aloud, while hugging left and embracing right. Suddenly producing a stack of folded banknotes, he said, “How about letting An [I, in northern dialects] be the banker?”

Leng Qiuhun took a glance with the corner of his eye; he saw a thick stack of banknotes, and the top one said ‘100,000 Taels of fine silver’. Immediately he laughed and said, “If Zhang Xiong wants to be the banker, Xiaodi and the others will be honored to accompany you.”

This moment, the banker was the head of the rice business association of Jinan, with members reaching around forty businesses. He has been pulling in more than a hundred thousand, and was just thinking of pulling back. Immediately he laughed while pushing the stack of domino tiles forward and said, “Zhang Xiong, please, Xiaodi will take Tianmen [heaven’s gate] position.”

Using the two steel balls as paper weight, Zhang Xiaolin put them on top of his banknotes, and said with a hearty laugh, “Little darling, guard them well for An, don’t let even one run away.”

Rolling both sleeves up, he revealed a snow-white light silk unlined upper garment.

Indeed this round was like a lively dragon and animated tiger; he made such a kill that everybody else was sweating profusely. More than half of the money that that rice boss, who had been the banker just now, had to be spit out and was added to the pile. Two other men, who were rumored to be under their wife’s thumb, although they wanted to recover their capital, had no choice but to reluctantly leave.

When midnight passed, the gamblers only remained about four, five men.

Zhang Xiaolin’s mouth was sucking the tobacco pipe that a young woman by his side handed to him, while his hands were busy handling the tiles. Casting a glance toward Leng Qiuhun, he laughed heartily and said, “Laodi [‘ol younger brother], you really don’t want to send off two wen [classifier for coins]?”

Leng Qiuhun smiled slightly and said, “Xiaodi is thinking of sending off some.”

A stack of folded banknotes also appeared in his hands, his eyes, like a pair of hunting dog’s eyes, circled everywhere. Suddenly he bet everything on the Tianmen, and said with a smile, “Three hundred thousand taels, single bet, no matter win or lose, this is it.”

Unexpectedly he put down 300,000 taels in one bet. Although everybody in the room was a big spender, they could not help turning pale. Surprisingly, no one else dared to lay a bet.

Zhang Xiaolin laughed heartily and said, “All right! Let An and you bet face to face!”

The dice rolled, and produced seven dots. Leng Qiuhun took the first deck, Zhang Xiaolin took the third deck. Without even looking Leng Qiuhun gently turned the deck over – it was a Heaven and a Man [i.e. double-six and double-four, respectively]; unexpectedly it was a Tian Bo [lit. heavenly silk].

The crowd could not refrain from murmuring their envy; the young women were laughing tenderly while clapping their hands in delight.

Zhang Xiaolin cupped his fist, grabbed the two tiles in his hands, and cast them an indifferent glance. Suddenly he slapped the tiles, face down, back onto the table.

Everybody nervously looked at him; they could not help asking, “What is it?”

Zhang Xiaolin’s countenance did not change. He counted 300,000 taels, and push it in front of Leng Qiuhun. He laughed and said, “Ban Deng [i.e. double-two] meets Duanming Laosan [lit. short-lived old three, not sure what it is]. An lost.”

Leng Qiuhun rolled his eyes; and then he laughed and said, “It may be assumed that gentlemen have satisfied your cravings enough today; how about come again some other day?”

Thereupon everybody broke into murmur, talking about what had just happened. In the mouth they were consoling Zhang Xiaolin, but in their belly they were taking joy in calamity and delight in disaster [fig. to rejoice in other people’s misfortune], “After all, I lost less than him.”

And so, everybody left happily with a tender and beautiful girl in their arms, looking forward to a night of good dream.

Zhang Xiaolin stretched out his limbs, and said with a laugh, “Laodi, you are really good; your vision is accurate, your killing is ruthless!”

Leng Qiuhun smiled indifferently; he said, “Is that so …”

Suddenly, fast as lightning, his right hand stretched out, grabbed and pulled the saber hanging on Zhang Xiaolin’s waist, and pressed the ice-cold blade against his neck. “Who are you? Why did you come here?” he asked coldly.

Zhang Xiaolin remained emotionless. Chuckling, he said, “Laodi, you must be joking. An don’t understand.”

With a cold laugh, Leng Qiuhun said, “You really don’t understand?”

His left palm struck the table, the two tiles, which were put down by Zhang Xiaolin, suddenly jumped up, flipped over, and landed back on the table.

Surprisingly, the two tiles were identical, which were chang san [long three, i.e. double-three].

Leng Qiuhun’s gaze was sharper than the blade; he spoke in stern voice, “You obviously won; why pretended to lose?”

Zhang Xiaolin laughed and said, “An’s eyes are not good; I saw it wrong.”

Leng Qiuhun shouted, “You don’t rub sand into the eye of a gangster. Friend, you better tell me honestly why you are here … Are you trying to entice me? What do you want?”

A smile suddenly appeared on Zhang Xiaolin’s face; he spoke heavily, “Leng Xiong indeed have sharp eyes … That’s right, Zaixia indeed have a request to make. But not only this matter will be beneficial to Zaixia, your honorable Bang [gang] will also …”

He smiled mysteriously, while cleverly paused.

Unblinking, Leng Qiuhun stared at him for a moment. Gradually his eyes softened. Casually brandishing the saber, ‘Qiang!’ he returned the saber to its scabbard, while speaking slowly, “If that’s the case, why didn’t you come openly and asked for an audience forthrightly?”

Zhang Xiaolin smiled and replied, “To do unusual things, you have to go the unusual road. If Zaixia failed to give Leng Xiong a strong impression, would Leng Xiong believe what Zaixia has to say?”

Smiling indifferently, Leng Qiuhun said, “Three hundred thousand taels to buy an impression, isn’t that a bit steep?”

Zhang Xiaolin replied in heavy voice, “If this matter succeeds, 300,000 taels is just one hair from nine oxen [fig. a drop in the ocean].”

Leng Qiuhun’s pale face suddenly appeared as if it was shining; but his mouth was still cold and indifferent, “Illegal things, our Bang will never do.”

Zhang Xiaolin laughed and said, “Although Zaixia is poor, on the whole I still have above ten million of net worth; illegal and risky business, Zaixia absolutely unwilling to do.”

Leng Qiuhun suddenly struck the table again and spoke sternly, “Since this matter is neither illegal nor risky, the profit is also lucrative, why don’t you go seeking others, but come here to seek our Bang?”

Zhang Xiaolin replied, “Simply because this matter requires a certain Zhanglao [elder] of your honorable Bang to take the initiative; otherwise, not only it is difficult above difficult, practically we do not have any chance of success.”

“Which Zhanglao are you talking about?” Leng Qiuhun asked.

“Assassin Scholar Ximen Qian,” Zhang Xiaolin replied.

Leng Qiuhun slowly turned around, slowly took two steps forward, and slowly sat down.

Zhang Xiaolin said, “As long as Ximen Qianbei [senior] is willing to personally set out, this matter will be an instant success; therefore, Leng Xiong must invite Ximen Qianbei to see me. If Ximen Qianbei hears what Zaixia has to say, he will definitely not refuse.”

Leng Qiuhun spoke slowly, “Our Jiashi [lit. family’s (martial) master; or simply, ‘my master’] usually will not see guests so easily. You can tell me. It’s just the same.”

Zhang Xiaolin laughed and said, “This matter must be directly communicated to Ximen Qianbei.”

Leng Qiuhun suddenly looked back and said angrily, “Are you intending to play tricks on me?”

Zhang Xiaolin laughed aloud and said, “I am afraid there has never been anybody in the world who play tricks on someone else with 300,000 taels of silver?”

Again, Leng Qiuhun stared at him for half a day; finally he spoke heavily, “You have come at a very unfortunate time; presently Jiashi is not in Jinan city.”

Zhang Xiaolin blurted out laughing, “Really?”

Leng Qiuhun coldly said, “Zaixia don’t normally joke around.”

Zhang Xiaolin stared blankly for a long time; his expression looked like he was indescribably disappointed. Turning his face upwards, he heaved a deep sigh and said, “Pity! Pity! Three million taels in front of the eyes, and now all my hopes and efforts come to nothing.”

Cupping his fist to salute, he walked out, hanging his head dispiritedly.

Leng Qiuhun pulled his hand back and said, “Did you say three million?”

Zhang Xiaolin smiled wryly and said, “Zaixia is a businessman; if there is no prospect of ten times of profit, how could I be willing to spend three hundred thousand first?”

Emotionally moved, Leng Qiuhun said, “Can’t you wait for Jiashi’s return?”

Zhang Xiaolin sighed and said, “In this kind of thing, naturally I cannot wait. Unless …”

Leng Qiuhun immediately pursued, “Unless what?”

Zhang Xiaolin said, “Unless before he left, Ximen Qianbei left a message, explaining where he went. That way, you and I could immediately go to look for him. We still have time.”

At this time, Leng Qiuhun could not help but was tempted; stomping his feet, he said, “Each time Jiashi went on a journey, he always left a message. Only this time … After he, the Senior, received a letter, he set off first thing in the morning.”

Unconsciously Zhang Xiaolin’s eyes lit up. “A letter?” he asked, “Where is the letter?”

Leng Qiuhun pulled his hand up and hurriedly said, “Come with me.”

“Where?” Zhang Xiaolin asked.

“To Zhui Hun Shou [soul-chaser hand] Yang Song’s place,” Leng Qiuhun replied, “You should have heard this name?”

Zhang Xiaolin said, “That letter, could it be at Yang Qianbei’s home?”

“That’s right,” Leng Qiuhun replied, “I remember before Jiashi left, he put the letter into a sealed envelope, and handed it over to Yang Shishu [martial uncle] for safekeeping. If we can take a look at this letter, presumably we can know Jiashi’s destination.”

“But …” Zhang Xiaolin asked, “But would Yang Lao Qianbei be willing to take the letter out and let us see it?”

Leng Qiuhun laughed and said, “Three million taels, no matter to whom, is not a small amount.”

They rode the carriage together. After passing through two streets, they arrived at a courtyard house.

On this clean and quiet street, which could not be considered short, there were only six doors. Yang Song’s house was the second building on the left.

Zhang Xiaolin did not need to look carefully, he knew that all residents living on this street were rich families in the city of Jinan, so much so that even the cracks and gaps in between the flagstones lining the street were swept clean. But a man with Yang Song’s status ought to live in a stand-alone manor at the outskirt of the city.

Leng Qiuhun seemed to have been able to read his mind; with a smile on his face, he explained, “Although Jiashi is somewhat reclusive, but for some reason, he insisted on living in the city. Although he, the Senior, does not like to talk to people, he loves to hear voices.”

“Your honorable Master …” Zhang Xiaolin said, “But isn’t this Yang …”

Jiashi and Yang Shishu usually live together,” Leng Qiuhun said.

Surprisingly, the black-lacquered gate was slightly ajar.

Without waiting for anybody, Leng Qiuhun pushed the door and entered in. The courtyard was very quiet; there were no voices at all.

In the main hall, the candlewick should have been trimmed long ago, the dim light of the spacious hall gave people a kind of desolate and mysterious feeling.

Leng Qiuhun sighed and said, “Yang Shishu usually sleep early. As soon as he went to bed, the people in the house would quietly sneak out. Especially when Jiashi is not home, these people would not want to stay for more than five days.”

Zhang Xiaolin laughed and said, “Are you saying that even the servants and the maids are leaving at night?”

“This house has never employed female servants,” Leng Qiuhun replied.

From the main hall, they went around the side and into the rear courtyard. It was even quieter. Unexpectedly they saw a faint lantern light coming from the west wing.

“That’s strange,” Leng Qiuhun said, “Could it be that Yang Shishu is not sleeping today?”

He was about to cross the courtyard, which was full of Chinese parasol tree [Firmiana platanifolia], when suddenly a drop of liquid fell on his shoulder. He carelessly brushed it off with his hand. The light penetrating the window behind him illuminated his hand.

Blood. The liquid on his hand was unexpectedly blood.

Startled, Leng Qiuhun looked up; on the parasol tree, there seemed to be someone waving at him.

Fast as lightning, he flew up to grab the wrist; but turned out it was just a hand.

There was nothing else, just one hand, dripping with blood!

Leng Qiuhun cried out in alarm. “Shishu, Yang Shishu!” he blurted out.

No response from the room in the wing.

He shook the door open and rushed in. Yang Song seemed to be sleeping on the bed; moreover, he seemed to be sleeping soundly; his body was hidden under the quilt, only his grey head was visible. But the room was indescribably messy; nothing seemed to be on its original place. There were three camphor wood boxes next to his bed, but the boxes were all overturned.

Leng Qiuhun was unable to restrain his emotions. He jerked the quilt away.

Blood. Under the quilt was a body dripping with blood, only the hands and feet were missing.

Leng Qiuhun was shivering as if he was cold, “Wu Gui Fen Shi [five-demon corpse separator],” he spoke in trembling voice, “Could it be Wu Gui Fen Shi …”

He turned around and rushed out. The other hand was hanging on the eaves, still dripping with blood. Apparently Yang Song’s corpse was dismembered less than half a sichen ago.

Zhang Xiaolin appeared to be petrified as well.

Leng Qiuhun hissed, “Zhusha Men has never had any enmity with Wu Gui, why would Xue Sha Wu Gui [bloody fiend five demons] committed such a ruthless act?”

Zhang Xiaolin said, “You … how do you know it was Xue Sha Wu Gui’s doing?”

Leng Qiuhun hatefully said, “Wu Gui Fen Shi, this is their trademark.”

“Sometimes other can also borrow the trademark,” Zhang Xiaolin muttered.

But Leng Qiuhun did not seem to hear him; he has begun searching around.

Zhang Xiaolin mumbled softly, as if he was talking to himself, “What are you looking for? That letter must be gone by now.”

The letter was indeed gone.

Leng Qiuhun’s countenance turned even more dreadfully pale. Suddenly he rushed over and grabbed Zhang Xiaolin’s collar. “What’s your relation with this matter?” he asked sternly.

Zhang Xiaolin replied, “If there is any relationship, would I be here?”

Leng Qiuhun glowered at him for half a day. Finally his palms loosened slowly. “But how did you come in such a right time?” he spoke in heavy voice.

Smiling ruefully, Zhang Xiaolin said, “Just because these days I am so unlucky.”

He looked around and said, “Why don’t you go to your honorable master’s room and take a look? Perhaps you’ll find some new clues.”

Leng Qiuhun thought for a moment. Finally he picked up the lantern and walked toward the east wing. The door was unlocked. This reclusive Zhusha Men’s elder unexpectedly lived inside four bare walls; very simple.

But there was a painting on the wall. It was not a painting of mountains and rivers [i.e. landscape], not insects, birds, flowers and plants, but a portrait of a woman. The strokes were exquisite, the facial features were vivid and lifelike. In those days, half-bust portrait like this was very rare. Unconsciously Zhang Xiaolin stole a couple of glances. But the more he looked, the more he felt that the woman in the picture’s charm and beauty were not something that words could describe. Even though it was merely a picture, it had some kind of irresistible charm.

Zhang Xiaolin could not help sighing and said, “I never thought your honorable Shimu [master’s wife] is a peerless beauty.”

Leng Qiuhun coldly said, “Until now, Jiashi is still unmarried.”

Zhang Xiaolin was stunned. “Oh … No wonder he and Yang Qianbei lived together,” he said, “Also no wonder that they did not employ any maidservants.”

However, although his mouth was uttering those words, in his heart he was thinking about something else, “Why did Ximen Qian stay single? Why would he hang this woman’s portrait in his room? What’s his relationship to the woman?”

Maybe, this was just an ordinary portrait?

But how could an ordinary portrait be only half-bust?

This moment, Zhang Xiaolin was back in his room at the inn. Outside the window, there were seven or eight men, wearing black clothes with vermillion belt, going back and forth on patrol.

These men were escorting him all the way back to the inn [orig. shouting in front (as herald), swarming behind]. Now they were keeping watch all around outside his room, as if they were his personal guards.

Naturally, the actual fact was that Leng Qiuhun sent his men to spy on him.

Actually, it was not that Leng Qiuhun had any doubt toward him, it was just he was unwilling for that ‘three million taels’ to fall under other people’s hands. Of this, naturally Zhang Xiaolin was very clear.

He could not help laughing; and he was laughing very cheerfully.

If he really wanted to make his move, in his eyes, these eight big men would not be much different than eight wooden dummies.

He blew out the lantern, stripped off his clothes, and lay in bed. As much as possible, he relaxed his limbs. The clean quilt rubbed against his skin. He felt extremely comfortable.

‘Big Ginseng Dealer from Outside The Pass’. Although this identity was fun, compared to his real identity, it was still a lot worse.

Besides, forcing himself to pretend to be another person couldn’t always be a pleasant thing to do. Especially the mask on his face, which often made his nose itchy.

Gradually his whole body entered the state of absolute stillness. But his brains had not stopped functioning.

Suddenly, there was a faint noise coming from the roof tile.

A dim column of moonlight sprayed the dark room.

Unexpectedly someone had opened several tiles from the roof, without creating the slightest noise. This nightwalker was surprisingly a big expert; his movement was very clean.

And then a shadow, like a slippery fish, climbed down from the roof, waited for a moment, and after hearing no sound, floated down to the floor.

Zhang Xiaolin still lay motionless, while squinting his eyes to look. Inwardly he was amused. If this person was a thief, by coming over here, surely their ancestors were lacking moral sense.

In the moonlight, he saw that the shadow wore black head covering, which also covered its face. The tight black clothes wrapped around her well developed but slender body. Unexpectedly it was an attractive girl.

In her hand was a very light and very short willow-leaf saber. Under the moonlight, the blade flickered continuously. Her pair of big eyes, where the black and the white were clearly distinguished, was staring unblinking at the person on the bed.

Zhang Xiaolin thought it was very interesting, it was simply extremely amusing.

This attractive girl was unexpectedly a female assassin.

Although the strange things that Zhang Xiaolin encountered in all his life were not a few, but having an attractive girl coming to assassinate him, this was still the first in his life.

Afraid that he might scare this female assassin away, he regulated his breathing that he appeared to be sleeping soundly. But apparently this female assassin did not come to kill him.

Softly and quietly she rummaged through Zhang Xiaolin’s clothes lying on the floor. She found the stack of banknotes, but after looking at it, she stuffed it back, still intact.

The female assassin obviously was not here to steal. Since she did not want to kill him, and did not come to steal, why did she come then?

Her eyes darted to the east and looked back to the west. Seeing the black box, she rushed over with cat-like movement, and stretched out a hand to open the box.

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