The little string, the zhi string, is a high-register string, fourth on the pentatonic scale, lower than yu, but higher than jiao, a half-voiced tone. It doesn't produce the highest notes, but it's still rather ear-piercing. It has been described as similar to a pig squealing, which although unpleasant on its own, when played in harmony with other notes, is sublime.
The cash office was on the left side of the front hall. There was a counter in front with three cashiers behind it, three shop assistants, and two pageboys. Normally the door to the office was closed. All the gold and silver was inspected by the cashiers first, then the assistants would take it to the cashier's office. There was a private room off to the side where a man as big and ferocious as Black Iron Pagoda, along with several other burly men, rested. They could come out at a moment's notice and block the office door. Anyone looking to barge into the cashier's office would first have to go through them. Plus, the office door was thick and heavy. If it was shut tight, not even a big iron hammer could break through.
Wenchang was an observant person. He cased the cashier's office as soon as he walked into the tavern and he arranged for himself to guard the door while Black Iron Pagoda went inside and grabbed the gold and silver. Now with Minstrel Chai helping them, two of them guarding the door would be a surefire plan.
They had ate and drank their fill, but the signal had not come yet, so they had to dawdle.
Suddenly an ear-piercing twang resonated from the front hall. The time had come.
Wenchang stood slowly and put on his overcoat and said to the waiter outside, "Waiter, I'm ready to checkout."
"Young master, your bill is twenty-one taels." The waiter bowed slightly, smiling.
Wenchang handed him five taels of silver and said, "Take me to the cash office."
The waiter was all smiles as he expressed his thanks over and over and pocketed the tip in his robe. Then he bowed at the waist and led the way. A meal costing twenty-one taels, plus a five-tael tip was enough for a family of five to live on for half a year. The owner of Taibai Tavern was even more formidable than a bandit.
The cash office had no places to sit, but there were seats set up behind the screen wall, so you could say it was a parlor of sorts for receiving guests. There was a covered passageway on the right which led to the second floor. The hall was spacious, guests shuttling in and out. Looking out the main doors one could see the plazas on either side were packed with horse carriages.
The waiter led them out of the hall as two richly-dressed middle-aged men entered through the main doors. They had bushy eyebrows and big eyes, broad shoulders and round waists. Behind them, a cluster of waiters were bowing and receiving a group of guests. The leader of the guests was around fifty with a round face. He was pale and fat and wore a long beard in five tufts. His face was wreathed in smiles and he wore an expensive marten fur coat. His hair was done up in a bun and wrapped with a "free headscarf", with the two ends dangling down the back of his neck. He wore high boots and he played with a string of coral beads in his hand.
Behind him were two fiendish-looking middle-aged men. One had big eyes, a big mouth, and a big nose, and he had a sallow complexion and a short beard. An unorthodox tiger claw weapon hung glittering gold from his waistband. It was two feet, two inches long and was thick and heavy. The claws were sharp. The other man had sunken green eyes, a pointed chin and sunken cheeks. He was lanky with a hooked nose and thin lips, and his whole face had a sinister look about it. A sabre with a long and narrow blade hung from his waist. One look at them and one could tell it was Crazed Tiger and Reckless Wolf.
Behind those three followed four servants, who came swaggering through the doors.
"Greetings, Boss," the waiters said in unison, bowing.
The boss was Du Yuanzhong, who smiled and waved them away as he headed for the cash office. "You all have been working hard, no need to delay on my account."
The cashiers and assistants all welcomed him from the counter. The enormous Flying Bear Song Yonghe came out from the small private room and bade his greetings as well.
Minstrel Chai came out from the other side of the screen wall, holding his pipa.
"It's you! Good! Finally found this damn guy." It was the two richly-dressed big men, who were furious.
Everyone stopped in their tracks. Boss Du had not entered through the counter doors but stood in the short doorway and turned around to look.
Black Iron Pagoda's face sank and stepped up, arms akimbo. "And so what you found him? You lookin' for a fuckin' beating?"
Wenchang started, unclear what was going on. The richly-dressed man on the right was about to pounce when a silhouette darted over. It was Crazed Tiger and Reckless Wolf coming out to get in between them. "You all, if there's a problem, take it outside."
"Make way," the richly-dressed man fumed.
"You have a bad temper, sir," Crazed Tiger declared. "What is your name?"
"I'm a lay disciple of Shaolin, Master Grand Dharma of the Temple of the Second Patriarch…"
"Brother, don't try to intimidate me with your background," Reckless Wolf broke in.
"Listen to me, gentlemen, this guy is Black Iron Pagoda Fan Ruhai. He once ran amok in our Temple of the Second Patriarch. It was very difficult to…"
"Your sect's affairs are none of this establishment's business. Take it outside, please!"
Black Iron Pagoda seized his chance and attacked at once with a huge roar as he rushed him.
Reckless Wolf never expected Black Iron Pagoda to disregard his warning and attack. He reached out in the middle of it to block him, shouting, "Junior… Uggh…"
Black Iron Pagoda took him by surprise with an explosive blow of his fist, hitting Reckless Wolf square in the left side of his chest and sent him flying back eight feet. Such a heavy blow sent him staggering back ten feet before he hit the wall and finally came to a stop.
"Yeah! Let's fight!" Wenchang yelled and charged to the counter at Boss Du.
Flying Bear was quick to leap out from inside his room, striking downward while he was still in the air. "You've got a death wish, chump!"
Wenchang was ready for him. He laughed heartily and darted right, his left palm like a knife with "Wu Gang Chops the Osmanthus", hacking at Flying Bear's left side, turning the tables on him, waiting until Flying Bear was about to land before striking.
Flying Bear was really something, as expected. He turned before he hit the ground and paid no heed to the huge palm chopping at his ribs. He fanned his hands arms out surged downward, his ten fingers like hooks. If he caught you with those it'd likely rip your skin and fracture your bones.
Wenchang was luring him to twist and counter, and he changed to "Boy Worships Buddha", both hands bursting up, knocking away Flying Bear's hands. Two heavy thuds as his palms struck Flying Bear's collarbones. With himself above his opponent, Flying Bear could not grab him by the neck, so he changed his hooking hands to chops and dropped them heavily.
Flying Bear shook as he landed on the floor and Wenchang's leg connected quick as lightning, not giving Flying Bear a chance to strike back.
Two explosive slaps and his legs went out one after another with the move "Butterflies Flying in Pairs", one leg aimed at his belly, the other at his crotch. Flying Bear knew the mystical iron shirt qigong to protect his body, so he wasn't wounded, but the incredibly heavy kicks were too much for him to shake off. His heavy self was sent back ten feet where he crashed into and knocked over two oversized armchairs and a tea table at the base of the wall with astounding momentum.
Boss Du turned pale with fright. He turned and ran at top speed for the cash office door, which was half-closed as two shop assistants were in the process of closing it with all their might.
Wenchang came on like a bolt of lightning and grabbed Boss Du and sped for the door.
"Aiyo…" Boss Du cried out wildly as he fell sideways into the crack in the door as the door squeezed him in so that he couldn't move in or out. The assistants trying to close the door were horrified and quickly let go of the door to help Boss Du.
Wenchang kicked the door open with a bang and raised his arm as Minstrel Chai hurriedly slipped inside. They pushed the assistants and Boss Du outside the door and shut the door and set about collecting the gold and silver.
Taibai Tavern was in an uproar, people tearing about like wild beasts, panic-stricken men and women fleeing in droves, creating quite the ruckus.
In front of the counter a battle raged, the two richly-dressed men and Crazed Tiger attacking each other wildly. Five or six men and four bully servants rushed behind the counter at Wenchang.
Wenchang guarded the cash office door, not letting them enter. Two thugs arrived first and in that narrow space it was impossible for them to attack at once. One of them used "Ravenous Tiger Pounces on the Lamb", pouncing forward, while the other ducked and ran in, striking with "Charging Bull" up top and using "Wrapping Up the Legs" below, darting in for Wenchang's lower body with a lot of momentum.
Wenchang's hard fist shot out twice and bashed the man who was pouncing on him like a ravenous tiger in the face. Blood spurted from the man's nose and he collapsed to the floor without making a sound. Wenchang took two steps forward and launched his knee up, catching the other man square in the jaw with a heavy knee strike. The man grunted as his head jerked back and he fell flat on his back. The two men fell in a heap and struggled to get up.
Fast! Really fast. It was a ruthless close-quarters contest of strength, whoever hit the hardest would come out the victor, and whoever was too slow would be out of luck. Wenchang came on like a raging lion, chopping down a servant with the side of his left hand and knocking out another man with his right fist. There was a succession of explosion smacks and the ten people behind the counter fell to the floor. It all happened in just a few seconds.
The first one back on his feet was Reckless Wolf. Black Iron Pagoda had hit him hard, so hard he felt his chest and lungs were on fire. It took him a moment to struggle to his feet, his green eyes blazing murderously. He drew his sabre and gnashed his teeth and charged; the shadow approaching Black Iron Pagoda's back was his sabre.
Black Iron Pagoda was in the process of hitting Crazed Tigers three times with his fists while taking several punches from the two richly-dressed men at the same time, but he didn't care. His last punch pounded into Crazed Tiger's right ribs as Crazed Tiger landed a punch to his left jaw. They both paused, giving Reckless Wolf a chance to slash with his sabre. Wenchang grabbed an abacus from the counter and flung it, yelling, "Big Bro, look out behind."
Black Iron Pagoda understood at once and stepped forward rather than retreating, crashing into Crazed Tiger, both hands digging into Tiger's ribs as he lifted up and they both crashed to the floor.
The abacus hit Reckless Wolf in the right shoulder with a smack and he howled and the sabre slipped out of his hands as he swayed to the left and staggered around in a circle. The abacus was smashed to pieces and wood beads scattered all over the floor.
Black Iron Pagoda and Crazed Tiger rolled on the floor, punching and kicking each other with all they had. Black Iron Pagoda got on top and got his arm around Crazed Tiger's arm and wrenched up with all his strength, not allowing him to take his tiger claw from his belt. He moved his right hand up slowly, quickly nearing Crazed Tiger's Well acupoint on his left shoulder.
The richly-dressed man on the right saw an advantage and went up and stooped and shot his palm out at Black Iron Pagoda's fourteenth vertebra. If he connected, because he was in a fierce fight and therefore not concentrating his energy on his primordial qigong to protect his acupoints, the vertebra between his kidneys would likely be shattered.
Wenchang had jumped over the counter as soon as he threw the abacus and was not behind the richly-dressed man, flat on his feet.
Opposite him the other richly-dressed man yelled, "Second Brother, watch your back…"
Too late. Wenchang laughed and pressed the acupoint on Second Brother's back between his shoulder blades. Not too hard, not too soft, just enough to make Second Brother go limp. He grabbed onto Second Brother's waist and yelled "Away with you!" Second Brother was helpless, crying out as he was sent sailing more than twenty feet through the air and out the main doors and to the steps where he collided with seven or eight terrified waiters and guests before he tumbled rapidly down the steps.
Wenchang had struck lightning fast, and he was quick on his feet too, kicking Crazed Tiger in the left ankle joint as both fists flew, smashing the other richly-dressed man in the left jaw and right ribs, his blows as mighty as a mountain.
"Ah…" the richly-dressed man cried as he fell on his back.
Crazed Tiger cried out from the kick to his foot and the power of his hand strikes was reduced by half. Black Iron Pagoda seized the chance and let him go and sat up and rained his heavy fists down together, four punches in a row, pounding Crazed Tiger to a pulp, who yelped constantly as blood sprayed from his nose.
Flying Bear was on his feet now. He shook his head like he was shaking the cobwebs out, then he howled and pounced on Wenchang's back.
Wenchang suddenly spun around, putting his left hand up as his right grabbed onto Flying Bear's right thigh and he used the twisting momentum of his spin to grab Flying Bear in the air and fling him with all his might.
Flying Bear chopped Wenchang twice in the left shoulder and grabbed onto Wenchang's robe at the shoulder with his left hand. Unfortunately, he was unable to cope with Wenchang and his ultimate breathing qigong. He was helpless as he crashed onto the counter and slid down it.
Black Iron Pagoda let go of Crazed Tiger and stood up and was just in time to see Flying Bear sliding along the counter on his side. Flying Bear propped himself up, but the momentum kept him sliding.
"Haha! Take this!" Black Iron Pagoda laughed wildly boisterously and shot his fist out.
He caught Flying Bear, who had not yet gathered his bearings, in the jaw. Flying Bear cried out and fell again on his back, sliding back down the counter and knocking everything off it the scales, brushes, paper, and other stationery all swept off, crashing to the floor in a scattered mess.
A thug took this opportunity to get close. He chopped twice and hit Black Iron Pagoda in the base of his neck with a lot of force.
Black Iron Pagoda just shrugged his shoulders and spun around and kicked suddenly.
"Ah…" the thug cried. He had been kicked in the middle of his left thigh and he doubled over, protecting his midsection with his hands. Black Iron Pagoda laughed wildly and hit him with a cross and the thug went flying ten feet and crashed to the floor, where he lay howling like a sick dog.
The richly-dressed man who had been knocked down staggered to his feet and wiped the blood from his nose, huffing and puffing. "The Liao Twins of Shaolin will never let this matter rest."
Wenchang knocked down two thugs and turned and laughed. "The Fugitive, Cai Wenchang, is ready and waiting respectfully for Great Xia Liao at any time."
Great Xia Liao was about to say something, but the words "Cai Wenchang" made him jump. He never expected Black Iron Pagoda cutting in from the side. He chopped at him and laughed loudly. "Haha! Fathead, you're so worthless!"
Great Xia Liao staggered, unsteady on his feet. Black Iron Pagoda's palm chopped down on the base of his neck and he grunted as his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he slid to the floor slowly.