The small boat sailed speedily toward the confluence of the Luo River and the Yun Canal. To their west was the pontoon bridge, one of the three big bridges crossing the Luo River.
Several dozen docks, big and small, lined both sides of the river, where approximately three hundreds ships and boats of all shapes and sizes were moored, while on the river itself ships and boats were coming and going. It was a very busy waterway traffic.
The small boat stopped between two cargo ships.
Due to limited space, plus the waterway had to remain open for the traffic, the ships and boats were moored very close to the dock; therefore, their movement would not attract unduly attention.
Looking at the bustling scene of cargo ships' loading and unloading activities, Kou Zhong asked in astonishment, "Just by looking at the bustling scene before our eyes, who would have thought that there are people proclaiming themselves king everywhere, and there is unending fire of war?”
Song Shidao said, "This kind of trade can bring the locals huge revenues, while meeting the balance between supply and demand; therefore, everybody try to facilitate it as much as they can. Supposing someone is not tactful and block the waterway, or perhaps confiscate the goods, the traveling merchants will simply go elsewhere to do their business. In the end they themselves would be the one suffering the loss.”
Ba Fenghan slowly swept his gaze across the multitude of boats; feeling a big headache, he said, "Which boat is it?”
Just now, he inquired Ren En, the Gang Leader of the Qingshe Bang, about the tea store and fragrance store. As expected, early morning the previous day, someone was placing an order for certain perfume and tealeaves. Song Shidao's guess that the tea and fragrance were yellow sprout tea and orange osmanthus perfume was right on.
The best thing was that because Ping Fu Lao Dian did not have enough orange osmanthus perfume in stock, they had to get it from their warehouse at the eastern part of the city. The man placing the order asked them to have the goods delivered to a certain dock, to be brought to its final destination by boat, hence the reason they followed the trail to this place.
Kou Zhong spoke up, "Although they might receive the goods on this dock, they could transfer it to any boat on this vast river area. Ay, this is indeed a stratagem to trap us by using the boats. Yin Gui Pai really know how to pick a good place.”
But Song Shidao has already anticipated this situation; he said, "My family has always been in waterborne transportation business, we are most familiar with this kind of situation. The boats here can be categorized as merchant ships, passenger ships, and fishing boats, three types. Due to the fear of enemy infiltration, inspection of people and goods in and out of the boats is very strict, it is well documented. I have already asked favor to the authority to check which boat, in term of scale, is rather big, which has been mooring here for at least two days, but without any loading/unloading activity. This way, although we might not hit bull's eye, it won't be too far.”
Kou Zhong conceded willingly. "No wonder before coming here Shi Feixuan looked for Er Gongzi,” he said, "This is the first time that I ever met a man whose thought is as thorough and precise like you.”
Smiling wryly, Song Shidao said, "I, Song Shidao, can't be considered anything. I can't even protect my beloved.”
Afraid that under grief Song Shidao might mess up their mission, Xu Ziling hurriedly said, "I have a thought: this boat, just like ours, must be moored at the outermost dock, so it will be ready to sail any moment.”
Ba Fenghan's tiger body slightly shook, his eyes quickly turned toward the three-mast ship that attracted his attention earlier. He said, "That boat is particularly suspicious; it seems to be moored in the middle of two big ships, but not even half a shadow of people is seen on all three ships. It is completely different from the busy situation of the other ships.”
The other three followed his gaze.
On one of the docks on the opposite bank, there were three ships moored side-by-side. The one in the middle looked twice as big as the other two. It had two-tiered deck. And as Ba Fenghan noted, they did not see any activity on all three ships.
Song Shidao said, "Looks like we don't need to waste time. I am going to ask Ren En to check these three ships immediately; I am sure we will get something soon.”
※ ※ ※
The four men sat on the second floor of a multi-story building by the river. From the window they were able to watch the loading/unloading activities on the docks below, not far to their left were the three suspicious ships.
Downstairs was the store specializing in salt business, own by the Qingshe Bang. In fact, all gangs and societies throughout Luoyang ran big waterborne transportation business.
All along, each gang or society had their own specialized business, monopoly and profit center; each one had their own sphere of influence.
The reason Luoyang Bang was provoking outrage among the gangs and societies was precisely because it often stepped into other gang's business, relying on their power to demand other gangs and societies to respectfully offer presents to them every month, and thus destroying the rules which say that these organizations would have nothing to do with each other.
Ren En's business was salt; naturally he was linked in countless ways with the Song Clan.
Kou Zhong suddenly asked, "If Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan are on the ship, what are we going to do?”
"We'll scuttle their ship first,” Xu Ziling replied, "And then, in the ensuing chaos, we grab her.”
Ba Fenghan said, "In that case, we must draft a good escape plan: how and which route to take; otherwise, if any of us is left alone and overtaken by the enemy, things would be bad, not only we'd fail to rescue Junyu, perhaps we'd lose our little lives as well.”
Based on Ba Fenghan's haughty and conceited character, unexpectedly he expressed some concerns, evidently his confidence in meeting Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan and still being able to escape alive was quite lacking.
Song Shidao smiled and said, "Under this kind of situation, it can be said that you are in confusion because of the concern in your heart. Assuming Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan are the upper class thoroughbred, we are at most only middle-class thoroughbred. Using middle-class thoroughbred against first-class thoroughbred, defeat is guaranteed.”
Kou Zhong said, "It's not that I did not think of this issue, but we practically do not know whether those two women are on the ship, and we do not dare to investigate recklessly. Therefore, we have no choice but to use the strategy of using middle-class thoroughbred to deal with first-class thoroughbred.”
Remaining tranquil and calm, Song Shidao said, "That was the reason I said that you are in confusion because of the concern in your heart. At Man Qing Yuan tonight, Qu Ao and Fu Qian are going to continue their unfinished battle. Even if Zhu Yuyan and the others do not support any side, they can't possibly miss this kind of rare opportunity to see what Fu Qian was made of. That will be our opportunity!”
Nodding, Kou Zhong said, "This is the only feasible way. Ay! I have no choice but to miss my appointment!”
Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, "Appointment with whom?”
Kou Zhong replied, "Just by listening to his name, we know that this person has some ambitions. He is called Song Jingang. Will you concede to him?” [Translator's note: JinGang literally means diamond, also Vajra, a thunderbolt or mythical weapon/guardian deity (in Buddhist iconography).]
Song Shidao and Ba Fenghan were emotionally moved.
The former said, "Not only this man is a rare martial art master of the northern Wulin, he is also both intelligent and brave. He is the first rate fierce general under Liu Wuzhou.”
Ba Fenghan said, "I have heard his name as well. In the north, he and Liu Heita are on par; both are famous generals whose name shakes their respective region, and both have never tasted defeat.”
After a short pause, he continued contemplatively, "He must be coming here with Tu Li. What did he look for you for?”
Kou Zhong said with a laugh, "He did not mention anything good. Although he did not say it out loud, I can assume that he is going to ask me to assassinate Du Fuwei; you think he was going to ask me to lead the troops to war?”
Although the four of them were talking, they were all sitting facing the window; never for one moment had their eyes left the suspicious ship.
Song Shidao said, "How could Song Jingang use a talented person like you in an insignificant position? Besides, if Du Fuwei is that easy to be assassinated, he would have died a hundred times over; even Yang Xuyan also returned without any achievement. In my opinion, he must have some other meticulous plan; he would definitely not let a figure like you go to waste.”
Ba Fenghan's heart was moved; he asked, "Did Er Gongzi know that Yang Xuyan is Li Shimin's man? He is also coming here with him, and we have had some exchange with him.”
Song Shidao was stunned. "I did not know that he is related to Li Shimin,” he said, "I only know that he is infatuated with the big personage of local casino Rong Fenxiang's daughter, Rong Jiaojiao. This information is highly classified; we have spent considerable effort just to obtain it.”
Kou Zhong was shaken; he said, "Dong Shuni did mention that Rong Jiaojiao is her bosom friend. Could it be … hey …”
Ba Fenghan nodded and said, "Based on Dong Shuni's wantonness, two women serving one man is hardly unusual. The Eastern Capital has always been the place where the old Sui imperial family resides, and Yang Xuyan is one of those; hooking up with those two women is an easy matter that only require a lifting of his finger.”
Slapping his thigh, Xu Ziling said, "Only after seeing that you did not fall into the trap did that fellow Yang Xuyan come to look for you to fight.”
Listening to this, Song Shidao was baffled, "What are you guys talking about?” he asked.
Fortunately, this moment Ren En, with happy expression on his face, walked in. He sat down and said, "Fortunately I did not disgrace your trust; I guarantee we've found the correct ship!”
Song Shidao was delighted; he said, "Ren Xiong is that confident; it must be quite a finding.”
Ren En looked to be around forty, short in stature, his outward appearance was like real businessman, but he looked fully capable to be the leader of a gang.
Showing a sincere smile, he nodded and said, "Indeed it was. Because there have been people who witness women, wearing gauzed face covering, came down from the ship, and it only happened last night. Although they had seen it only once, but due to the young women have extremely fine figure, it has left a very deep impression.”
Ba Fenghan said, "But I can be sure that they are not Zhu Yuyan or Wanwan. With their skill, how could they easily let others see them?”
Song Shidao spoke calmly, "Ren Xiong, please arrange some vegetables and meat dishes for us, but please skip the wine; we are going to compete against Yin Gui Pai's witch and female demon [yaofu, yaonu] in patience!”
After acknowledging the request, Ren En turned to Ba Fenghan and said, "I also have information on Tiele people: the place Qu Ao is staying is a house at Xing Yi Lane at the northeast part of the city. The place belongs to Du Ganmu of Lüliang Pai. And Du Ganmu is King Dong of Yue's subordinate.”
Ba Fenghan sighed and said, "Thank you for your honorable Gang's trouble! But right now I cannot be in two places at once. I hope Qu Ao can defeat Fu Qian, otherwise, I have no interest to pick a fight with the defeated army in the future.”
Ren En's eyes showed deep veneration; he withdrew downstairs.
All along the four men's eyes have never left those three ships.
 I might misunderstand the text, but I think Song Shidao was referring to the story of Sun Bin helping Tian Ji in a horse race against the King of Qi. In Divine Eagle Gallant Knight (aka Return of Condor Heroes) Huang Rong related this story to Guo Jing in Chapter 12 (The Heroes' Feast). The story can also be found here: