Chapter 86: I'll See Myself In
"Let's go!" Sterling responded. "Enough talk."
There was an uproar in the street. Someone shouted, "He killed him! He's dead!"
They hurried through the crowd, paying no heed. They went three hundred feet and then Sterling pointed to a big house and whispered, "That's the one, the rear wing of that Beautiful Bouquet Pavilion. We'll fine Traceless Snowwalker there."
In the middle of a fifty-foot wide, ten-foot high wall was a gate large enough to accompany a small curtained carriage. The carved placard above the gate said Beautiful Bouquet Pavilion in large characters. Through the gate was a flower garden replete with a rock garden resembling mountains, pool, and pavilion. A footpath wended among the flowers a hundred feet straight to the main building. This was the secret love nest of Chang'an's renowned Fourth Miss Shui, though in the last two years, in the prime of her youth, she had closed her doors and turned away visitors, and no longer flaunted herself and offered her services to the elite and influential.
The fate of women of the pleasure quarters was clear to all. Aside from the scant few who managed to find a suitable home to settle into, most of them suffered tragic ends. Since they could not acquire proper family status among the rich elite, not could they forget the lavish lives of luxury as women of the pleasure quarters, how could they marry into a poor family and be a dutiful wife and loving mother? Therefore, the clever ones saved the money they earned plying their trade in their youth so that when they got older and their looks faded they could find some fool and settle down with him and live out the rest of their years in peace and comfort. The even more clever ones purchased a few pitiful young girls and cultivated them so they could later be a money tree for them to shake, and they could simply sit back and reap the profits, gradually becoming a procuress themselves. And so one generation gives way to the next, without end.
Fourth Miss Shui was the latter type. She was quite smart, withdrawing from the pleasure quarters at the height of her popularity and instead promoted her dozen sisters. And so Beautiful Bouquet Pavilion became a resplendent rose among the flowers of the pleasure garden. Men are the strangest of creatures. If they can't get something they want it even more, and so there were many who sought a peek of Fourth Miss Shui and Beautiful Bouquet Pavilion was always busy.
Fourth Miss Shui was weary of brothel life and didn't like to socialize with unfamiliar clients. She had her eyes set firmly on Traceless Snowwalker. Meanwhile, the dozen other prostitutes at Beautiful Bouquet Pavilion, who took took flowers as their names, also no longer received clients in their rooms and semi-retired, only welcoming, rich, influential men who sent carriages for them. Even past frequent clients were only treated cordially in the parlor. With Traceless Snowwalker looking after her, other rich elites dared not barge in, and if they did, a contingent of henchmen would come out and send these ignorant clients away dejected.
The Three Heroes of Chang'an were seemingly honorable men of the city, but in secret they were bandits who plied their trade outside the prefecture. How could they not have fostered sworn followers? With money one could do anything, and they made friends with all walks of life within Chang'an. Traceless Snowwalker's mistress, Fourth Miss Shui, was a flower, but this flower had thorns. Anyone besides him who tried to pluck her would come away bleeding.
On this day, Traceless Snowwalker was indeed lying low at her place. This guy had a close secret relationship with Outcast Androgyne. He was Androgyne's helper within the city. He often came in touch with Androgyne's followers Odd Beggar Feng Tao and Mad Beggar Lang Xiatian. If there were any problems he would convey the news to them, but he would never meet Androgyne personally so as to avoid exposing their relationship. Wenchang's capture that time at Mysterious Altar Temple was Odd Beggars handiwork, and later Wenchang had nearly recognized Odd Beggar, which made Wenchang suspicious.
Outcast Androgyne had high hopes for Wenchang. He intended to use Wenchang to spread the venomous rumor that Nine Palace Fortress and Endless Valley were colluding, so he had secretly helped Wenchang escape again. That time Wenchang lifted the gold and sought out the Three Heroes, Seven Spells happened to show up and Androgyne was forced to come out and lure Seven Spells away in order to help Wenchang get away.
Who knew that Wenchang would not go back and look for the Three Heroes but would instead change his appearance and continue on in secret, concealing himself from the Three Heroes. Outcast Androgyne thought Wenchang might have left Chang'an already, so he left too. Without anyone controlling them, and with scant news coming from the city, The Three Heroes of Chang'an didn't dare move about, and they really couldn't go out of the prefecture rob people with the authorities swarming around and checking everything so closely. They had practically lost their means of earning a living, and so they gnashed their teeth with hatred for Wenchang. Good thing Sterling had run into the big man; if he had dropped in to see them it would be his own neck on the line.
Sterling was lucky enough. He told the big man where Traceless Snowwalker lived while he himself stood off to the side and watched, waiting for a chance to find Snowwalker and tip him off.
The big man stroked his curly beard and gave caution to the wind as he let loose a kick that slammed the courtyard gates open, and he boomed like thunder, "Anyone here? Two of you get out here and answer me."
The left wing of the courtyard was a little parlor; the right was the gatekeeper's residence. Two gatekeepers rushed out in alarm at the sound of the gates crashing open. There were two thugs in the parlor wearing sheepskin overcoats, reclining in chairs, their feet propped up before the stove. The leapt to their feet at the sound and drew the daggers from their belts and called out, "Who's there? You got a lot of nerve to barge in here like that. What are you doing?"
The big man looked sturdy as a mountain under the lanternlight, his big round eyes glittering, black curly beard sharp and prickly as he took up a domineering position in the passageway, his arms akimbo. "I, Papa Blackie, am here to see someone. You little rabbits can pass on a message for me."
The four men flinched at his booming voice. One thug hesitated, then steeled himself and stepped forward, a hand on the handle of his dagger. "How unmannerly of you, Big guy, to come barging in here carrying on. You didn't even say…"
The big guy took two steps forward and nearly put his massive thumb on the tip of the thug's nose as his big eyes rolled and he cut in with, "Papa Blackie has already asked around. Go on! Get that Rong guy out here so he can answer me."
The tug took two steps back and said in a stern voice, "Are you here looking for trouble?"
"Bah! Enough bullshit. You tell me, is Old Third Rong in there?"
"First tell me why you've come."
"Tell me! Is he or is he not inside?"
"First say why you're here." The thug wasn't going to give in to the big swarthy man until he said it.
"You won't tell me?" The big swarthy man took another step forward.
The thug suddenly drew his blade and assumed an angry stance. "Old Fourth, help me take care of this guy."
The big swarthy man roared with laughter and closed in another step. "Wise guy, you better put that little paring knife away nice and quick. It means nothing to Papa Blackie. Taking that little thing out might just be the end of you."
The thugs didn't listen. They yelled together and attacked one from the left, one from the right, their blades out in unison, their big arms coming out over top of the blades, trying to lure the big swarthy man to make a move.
The big man laughed and shot his hands out, not waiting for the blades, and he grabbed the left wrists of the two men that were ahead of the blades and yelled, "Down you go!"
As he yelled he jerked his hands back and downward. The thugs went with him and smashed into the floor with a thud, face first.
The big swarthy man stepped up, stooped over, and snatched them up by their belts and roared with laughter as he tossed them out of the courtyard gates, then began his march inside as he called out, "Since no one is leading the way, I'll just see myself in and send him running like a chicken with its head cut off. It's fine with me if that junior, Rong, won't come out."
He swept down the flowerlined footpath and onto the steps of Beautiful Bouquet Pavilion. The main hall was brightly lit but there were no clients. The girls had all been told to go out and not there, only a few maidservants to tend to things. Behind the main hall was the inner rooms, a staircase with carved wooden railing leading up the magnificent pavilion. Colorful lanterns lit the way, illuminating each splendid decoration, and a faint scent wafted from the dark recesses within, making this seem like a wonderful little secluded world.
Of course the girls inside knew there had been a commotion outside, but they didn't know what it was about. But here was this huge swarthy man in the doorway. Seven women and young girls screamed and ran into the main hall.
"Where are you going?" the swarthy man called after them as he went in after them. "Get that junior, Rong, out here."
A pretty figure suddenly appeared from the inner rooms. Her hair was piled up on her head like a coiled dragon and was covered with pearl and jade ornaments. She had upward slanting phoenix eyes below her pretty eyebrows that resembled the shapes of distant mountains, and her cheeks were lightly dusted with powder. She also had a beauty mark on her cheek. She wore a fox-fur robe draped over her shoulders and a long skirt that trailed on the ground which was embroidered with little sprigs of plum. Her scent wafted in the air and she was stunning under the lanternlight. She looked to be about seventeen or eighteen. She walked out lightly and gracefully gave a start when she saw the big swarthy man, but her expression relaxed at once and her powdered face broke out into a smile. She said in a coquettish voice, "What's all this? So impolite. Hurry up and make tea for this gentleman."
The seven women stopped short at her words and stopp there trembling.
The big man stood still. He seemed perplexed by the girl's calm demeanor. Rather, he wasn't about to act rough with her. His big mouth grinned. "Pardon, young miss, call Old Third Rong out here."
The pretty girl beamed. She held the corner of her skirt and gracefully curtseyed. "May I ask this gentleman's honorable name? My lowly name is Fangqin…"
"Shut up! Who cares what your name is? Get, call Old Third Rong out here."
"Third Master has been troubled these past few days and is not receiving outside guests."
"His troubles are his business. He still has to come out and see me."
Fangqin could tell the big swarthy man up to no good in coming here. She thought she could use gentle means to get rid of this big hooligan. She lithely stepped forward, smiling like a flower and she chuckled sweetly. "Please have a seat, sir. If there is some problem…" She reached out to take the big man's arm.
He was unmoved by her delicate scent and charming smile. He snatched her outstretched hand and grabbed the front of her robe with his other hand, right against her chest, and lifted her up like a little chick and set her down in a chair off to the side.
Fangqin's fair face wilted. "Sir, let go, let go…"
The big man set her in the chair and snorted. "Just be good and sit there, or else I'll stuff you under the chair."
Then he went to the inner hall doorway, swung the doors open with his big arm, and kicked several girls who tried to get inside into a pile without the slightest bit of concern for them.
As the girls screamed, he ran inside to the staircase.
Traceless Snowwalker appeared at the top of the steps. "Who's behaving wildly out here?"
The big swarthy man stopped at the steps and looked up. "Asshole, you're good at hiding. I've looked all over Chang'an for you, but I never expected you'd be holed up here in a woman's embrace, enjoying the good life. But I've found you."
Traceless Snowwalker got a good look at the big man. "Eh! It's you."
"Yeah, it's me. Black Iron Pagoda Fan Ruhai. I thought you had forgotten me."
Two men, one tall, one short, appeared behind Traceless Snowwalker. The tall one had a blade scar by his left ear, and the short one had two huge black nostrils at the end of his nose. The tall one held a sabre and a sword. He handed the sword to Traceless Snowwalker and said in a low voice, "Teach this fool a lesson so he doesn't throw his weight around our city."
Traceless Snowwalker took the sword and descended the stairs. "Brother Fan, what can I do for you?"
Black Iron Pagoda took a deep breath. "I asked around and even went to your little secret hideout, but you all were long gone. Junior, you can't fool me, I know you three are no good. Perhaps you're moved to evil deeds at the sight of money and have tricked my Brother Cai and taken him somewhere…"
"Bah! What are you talking about?"
"I'm telling the truth. Those four big pearls Brother Cai has are worth four hundred taels of gold. There are few bandits who would see those and not be tempted! I've come here to ask you for a favor…"
"You venomously slander me, then ask for a favor?"
"Tell me where Brother Cai is." Black Iron Pagoda spat out each word.
"Shit! These past few days, I've been…"
"You really are a rat, scurrying to a dark corner of the room, listening, waiting for everything to play out."
Traceless Snowwalker and the other two were at the bottom of the stairs now. The tall one gave a signal with his eyes and leapt down from the side and blocked Black Iron Pagoda from behind. One hand gripped his sabre handle, the other the scabbard. He was ready to draw it, but Black Iron Pagoda seemed not to notice, ignoring him completely.