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Friday, 11 July 2008 05:56

Chapter 3 – Mai LaoGuang

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Mai LaoGuang was the name of a little restaurant. It was also the name of a person. Mai LaoGuang’s barbecue meats smelled so good that the scent reputedly could draw any person or dog within a ten li radius to its door.

Mai LaoGuang was the owner of the little restaurant, plus head cook and waiter.

Aside from barbecue meats, Mai LaoGuang only sold rice and congee.

If you wanted to drink wine with your meal, you would need to purchase it at “Yan Mao Yuan Wine Shop” a few doors over and bring it back or else buy some barbecue meat to take over to Yan Mao Yuan.


There were some people who tried to convince Mai LaoGuang, “Don’t you think you could earn even more money if you sold wine also?” But Mai LaoGuang was a stubborn person. So if you wanted to drink wine, you would have to buy it yourself. If you were not satisfied with the restaurant, there really was no other place that you could go to.

That was because Mai LaoGuang’s barbecue meat was not only the best, it was also the only such shop within the vicinity.

The citizens of the mountainous city were already reluctant to light their lamps. They would never splurge on a meal outside of the city. So, even if someone did try to come along and steal LaoGuang’s business, within a few days they would be out of business instead.

Mai LaoGuang never held any dislike for Wang Dong, Guo DaLu or the others because he knew that, though they were poor, they never tried to get away without paying.

Every time they went to his restaurant, their pockets always contained a couple silver pieces, and they always ate a lot. No restaurant owner could ever dislike a customer that ate a lot.

The corner diagonally across from Mai LaoGuang was Wang Dong et al’s “second home.”

On this corner was a pawn shop.

Each time they were in the city, they would first take a stroll through their second home. They always came out swaggering more than when they went in.

This particular day was an exception though.

They walked right past their second home, their heads held high, without even stopping. Just by observing how they walked down the street, you could deduce that their pockets most definitely were not empty.

Mai LaoGuang’s mind was set at ease, but yet also found it odd. “Has that group of b**tards changed their line of work to become thieves? How come they’ve suddenly got so much money?” “B**stard” is not necessarily always a curse word; sometimes it can be used as a form of affection.

This time, before the four of them had even walked in the door, Mai LaoGuang was already there welcoming them. In his half-baked, cantonese-accented mandarin, he greeted them saying, “Why are you all out so early today?” You need not fear Heaven or Earth, but you should dread listening to a cantonese speaker attempt to speak mandarin.

It was a good thing Guo DaLu was used to listening to him. Even if he could not understand what he was saying, he often could guess. Laughing, he replied, “It’s not the people that have arrived early, it’s money. To start, we’ll have a couple of roast geese and five jin of crunchy skin pork. Plus, bring us a soy-sauce chicken.”

Mai LaoGuang blinked. “No wine?”

Guo DaLu: “Of course we want some. Go grab us a few jin first. We’ll include it all in the tab later.” His voice was loud and resounding when he spoke because today he was carrying with him an ingot of gold that weighed a total of ten liang.

Since their purpose was to investigate the households that had been burglarized, spending ten or so liang of their gold should not be a big deal. If your stomach is hungry, you can’t even be bothered to open your mouth to say anything, much less investigate and get information. Nothing weighed upon their consciences.

As the wine level in the jug slowly went down, the sense of duty in their hearts started surfacing.

Someone else had treated them to wine so they really should complete a task for them.

They were not ones who would try to eat for free.

So, Guo DaLu asked, “Have you heard any news these last couple of days?” None.

The most sensational news in the city was the owner of the general store, Mrs. Wang, had just given birth to twins.

They were starting to think that something peculiar was going on.

 

Guo DaLu: “Maybe they didn’t steal from this place.”

Yan Qi: “They must have.”

Guo DaLu: “Then why isn’t there anyone here that has had anything stolen? In one night, so many households have been burglarized. That’s a big deal. The city should have been turned upside down in chaos by now.”

Yan Qi: “It’s not that it hasn’t. It has, only no one has said anything; they dare not say anything.”

Guo DaLu: “Having things stolen from you isn’t shameful. Why wouldn’t they dare say anything?”

Yan Qi: “If a person’s wealth did not come from an honest source, even if it has all been stolen, he can only be like a mute who has eaten yellow lotus, bitter yet unable to speak.”

Guo DaLu laughed. “If that’s the case, then it’s really none of our business. We have already done all that we can, right?” By now, nearly all of the wine was in his stomach and it was quickly washing away his feeling of obligation. He suddenly felt very relaxed. In a loud voice, he said, “Bring us a few more jin of wine.” But Mai LaoGuang had not even stepped out the door when three men unexpectedly walked in from outside.

The first man was very tall and the clothes he wore were splendid, sparkling brightly with gold. The second man was even taller and unusually thin. However, no one got a clear look at what these two men actually looked like.

That was because every gaze was drawn to the third man.

His entire body was covered in black, black clothing, black pants, black boots. His hands wore black gloves and on his head was a black, wide-brimmed felt hat, which was pulled tightly over his brow.

Even if he was not wearing the hat, no one could see his face. A black, cloth hood covered his entire head and face so that only a pair of eyes, sharp as daggers, could be seen.

This type of outfit was only appropriate to wear for people who were doing shady business in the middle of the night, but here he was wearing it out on the street in the light of day.

What did he look like? No one knew and no one could see. From the top to the bottom of his body, there was not a single inch of skin for people to see.

But for some reason, each person there sensed a danger emitting from every inch of his body.

The most threatening part, of course, was still the sword that he carried on his back.

A black-scabbard sword, four feet seven inches in length.

Very few people used this type of sword. Because of its long length, it was not easy to pull out of its scabbard and required a special technique.

Anyone who could use this type of sword would be a difficult opponent. Since removing it from its scabbard was so difficult, the sword would not be so readily sheathed again.

By the time it returned to its scabbard, it was usually stained with blood.

Someone else’s blood.

The three men chose a table in the farthest corner of the restaurant. They obviously did not want to disturb anyone and more so, did not want anyone to disturb them.

They ordered “whatever you want to bring out.” That showed that they were obviously not there to eat, nor were they particular about eating.

If people are not particular about what they eat, their hearts are usually filled with worry or they are thinking about something else. And no matter what it is they are thinking about, it is guaranteed to be something unpleasant.

Lin TaiPing’s eyes were fixed on the black-clothed man’s sword. He muttered, “The sword has not even left the scabbard and it is already radiating a murderous air.”

Wang Dong: “It is not from the sword; it is from the person.”

Guo DaLu gave a sigh. “Maybe. I do know, though, that even if I was stone-drunk, I wouldn’t challenge him to a fight.”

Yan Qi suddenly spoke: “I know who the other two people are.”

Guo DaLu: “But they don’t know who you are.”

Yan Qi laughed and answered lightly, “That means nothing. Do you really expect people as famous as them to know who I am?”

Guo DaLu: “They’re famous?”

Yan Qi: “The one sitting closest to the outside, the tall and thin one, he’s called JiaGun[1], sometimes also known as GunZi [*rod or stick].”

Guo DaLu: “GunZi, can see where that comes from. But the name JiaGun is rather peculiar.

Yan Qi: “A jiagun is a type of instrument of torture used by officials. No matter how cunning or sly the prisoner is, when the jiagun is placed on him, he will say whatever you want him to say. You could tell him to call you his ancestor and he would dare not disobey.”

Guo DaLu: “He really has that capability?”

Yan Qi: “It’s been said that anyone who meets him has no choice but to tell the truth. He even has the ability to get a statement from a corpse.”

Wang Dong: “He must use extremely ruthless methods.”

Yan Qi: “He is also known as GunZi, which comes from the meaning, ‘beat anyone he sees.’ No matter who falls into his hands, they still cannot avoid being beaten, before he even says anything, until their eyes and nose are all bruised and swollen. When criminals see him, it’s as if they have seen a deadly ghost or the King of Hell himself.”

Wang Dong: “What does he do?”

Yan Qi: “He’s the constable of the Clear River district.”

Wang Dong: “The Clear River district isn’t a very large place. Isn’t that a waste of talent?”

Yan Qi: “It’s because his methods are too ruthless, that’s why he has never been promoted. But whenever some place has a big case that cannot be solved, they always go to Clear Water to borrow his services.”

Guo DaLu: “What about that dear friend who is all gold and sparkly?”

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[1] An ancient Chinese instrument of torture used by officials in court. The following link shows a model of the instrument strapped on the feet of the prisoner lying on the floor. http://bbs.tj.house.sina.com.cn/uplo.../2370/2388.jpg

 

Yan Qi: “His surname is Jin [*gold], and he likes gold so he is called ‘Golden Lion.’ But behind his back, people call him Golden-Coat Pekingese.”

Guo DaLu laughed. “Speaking from my conscience, he really doesn’t resemble a Pekingese dog one bit.”

Yan Qi: “Have you ever seen a Pekingese?”

Guo DaLu: “I’ve seen all types of dogs.”

Yan Qi: “What is the largest thing on a Pekingese’s face?”

Lin TaiPing interrupted, “The nose.”

Yan Qi: “And what is the smallest?”

Lin TaiPing: “The mouth.” He gave a laugh, then explained, “I raised several Pekingese dogs when I was young.”

Yan Qi: “Guys, now take a look at his face again.” From where they were sitting, it was the perfect angle to see this “Golden-Coat Pekingese’s” face.

No matter who was looking at his face, there was no missing his nose. His nose took up one-third of his entire face. A person’s mouth is always wider than the nose, but his nose was wider than his mouth. If you were looking down from the top of his head, you would not be able to see his mouth because his nose would be blocking it.

Guo DaLu nearly laughed out loud. Suppressing his chuckles, he said, “That is truly one exceptionally large nose.”

Wang Dong: “His eyesight must not be very good.”

Guo DaLu asked curiously, “How do you know?”

Wang Dong: “Because that nose is like a partition separating his eyes. The left eye can only see things on the left side and the right eye can only see things on the right side.” Before he had finished his sentence, even Yan Qi had burst into laughter.

Guo DaLu: “But I still haven’t been able to find his mouth.”

Restraining his laughter, Yan Qi replied, “That hole underneath his nose, that’s his mouth.”

Guo DaLu: “I thought it was nose hairs.”

Wang Dong: “That’s why when he eats, no one can ever figure out where the food has gone.” Even though they were all trying their hardest to contain their laughter, they could hold it in no longer. Guo DaLu was laughing so hard he nearly slid under the table.

The Golden-Coat Pekingese suddenly turned his head and glanced at them. That one glance was enough. Each of them could feel a threatening, sharp glare coming from his eyes, which truly did have some resemblance to the eyes of a lion. Even his eyeballs were yellow.

They had already been speaking in low tones but they lowered their voices in further.

Guo DaLu: “And what does he do?”

Yan Qi: “Also a constable. Two years ago, he was a constable in the capital city, but I heard that he was recently promoted to head constable of the northern nine provinces.”

Guo DaLu: “He dresses like some playboy. He really does not look like some famous constable.”

Wang Dong: “Well, he doesn’t look like a pauper.”

Lin TaiPing: “And what are his talents?”

Yan Qi: “His nose.”

Lin TaiPing: “His nose?”

Yan Qi: “His nose may be large, but it’s not useless. Reputedly, his nose is more sensitive than a dog’s. He needs to take only one smell of a person, then no matter how much that person tries to disguise himself, he will not be able to escape.”

Lin TaiPing: “That truly is not a small talent.”

Yan Qi: “The two are both among the best fighters of Six Fan Sect. If it wasn’t an important case, there is no way they would be involved. So ...”

Wang Dong: “So you think it’s odd that they would suddenly appear in a place such as this.”

Yan Qi: “I do indeed think it is very odd. If they are here because of last night’s burglaries, how did they get their information so quickly?” At this moment, a woman’s piercing scream was heard from the streets. It sounded as if someone had stepped on a chicken’s neck.

Then they saw a woman, her hair all dishevelled, rush out from a house across the street. A short, chubby man desperately tried with all his might to grab her. In the end, the woman threw herself on the ground, wailing as she cried, “Even the money to buy my coffin has been stolen. Why shouldn’t I say something?” The more she spoke, the more heartbroken she sounded, and she began to bang her head against the ground as she bawled, “Oh Heaven! You bl*ody robbers, how heartless you are! Why didn’t you leave just a little bit for me? … A total of 3000 liang of gold plus my jewellery! I am willing to give half to any kind-hearted person who is willing to help me recover what I’ve lost.”

The man’s face turned red for a moment, then pale for another. With great effort, he was finally able to drag her back, but he still deliberately took the time to turn his head and force a smile as he spoke. “Now where would we find 3000 liang of gold for people steal?”

Guo DaLu and Yan Qi exchanged a glance. They were about to ask Mai LaoGuang, “Who is this person?” but JiaGun beat them to it.

His voice was very deep and he spoke very slowly, as if each word required a lot of attention and effort to say. It left an impression that when he spoke, it would be best if you listened carefully.

Mai LaoGuang: “I had heard that they are husband and wife who moved from Kaifeng. They were originally in the business of cotton fabrics and had saved over a thousand liang of silver. They had planned to retire here and live the rest of their lives frugally. If it is true that their house did have 3000 liang of gold for people to steal, then that would be a real marvel.” He was normally not a man of many words, but he was suddenly unusually articulate. Even his mandarin pronunciation seemed much more accurate.

JiaGun was listening.

His speaking had been slow and careful, but he was even more attentive when listening. It was as if he wanted to take each word that you spoke and slowly chew over it before digesting.

After Mai LaoGuang had finished speaking, he asked, “What is their surname?”

Mai LaoGuang: “The man’s is Gao. The woman’s, I believe her maiden name is Luo.” JiaGun suddenly stood, and with large strides, he walked out the door.

The man dressed in black had not spoken a word the entire time, but all of sudden, they heard him ask, “Is it noon yet?”

Mai LaoGuang: “It is just past noon.”

Black-clothed man: “Hand it over.”

Golden Lion hesitated. “Is it appropriate to do it here?”

Black-clothed man: “Yes.” Golden Lion gave a sigh. He reached into the front of his clothing, pulled out an ingot of gold that weighed about 20 liang, placed it on the table, and lightly pushed it toward the man. Without another word, the black-clothed man took the gold.

Golden Lion exhaled a lengthy breath. Looking out the window at the sky, he muttered, “The day is passing by very quickly.” But yet, to some other people, it seemed like they would forever have to endure the hours of this day.

End of Chapter 3