Editors: Nyxnox, Cypress Venus Trap
Chapter 159 Debt
Xu Xiaoyi was fifteen or sixteen years old, but he was short for his age and looked like he was eleven or twelve years old, even younger than Shangguan Ru. Usually, ordinary people would ignore a child like him, but he was actually very mischievous and in Southern Jade City, he was like a fish in water. He could be considered a third-class servant in a brothel, barely a second-class thief, but definitely a first-class information seeker.
Ever since he had heard that rice grains were found on the bed after Duke Gao’s death, he had been thinking about the matter while strolling around in Southern Jade City. As a result, he really had heard some news.
Duke Gao was on the verge of bankruptcy when he died. Many people thought that his fortune was so large it could never be spent, but that image was only an illusion, one that Duke Gao maintained only so that he could continue borrowing money. There was a rumour that the Qiu Society was initially established by Duke Gao to coax people like Meng Fifth Gongzi into investing money, so he could secretly embezzle it to pay off his debt.
The plan didn’t seem to go well because when Duke Gao died, a large number of loaners were dumbfounded. The quick-witted ones ransacked everything in Duke Gao’s house, while the slow-witted could only wallow in their misfortune.
Shopkeeper Mi was one of the worst losers. The money he had lent out was public money paid by the merchants of the rice and flour trade, some of which were protection fees. In other words, he had loaned out the money that should have been given to the Kun Society to the Qiu Society, which would be exposed by the end of the month. So he was ready to flee.
Actually it was Xu Xiaoyi’s guess about him preparing to flee, “His servant has gone to buy several east riverside horses. You know, the kind of horses that are short but have very long hair. Isn’t that a sign that he’s going to run away?”
“It turns out that he is the traitor!” Shangguan Ru gritted her teeth and said, “Come, let’s go question him.”
The sabremen and killers naturally responded in unison as Tenth Gongzi ordered. Gu Shenwei was more cautious. He thought that what Xu Xiaoyi had heard might not be all trustworthy and suggested that it was better to go and find out by themselves first.
Gu Shenwei actually had an unspoken reason. He didn’t want Tenth Gongzi to get involved in another adventure in case this was also a trap.
Shangguan Yushi understood Servant Huan’s intention and surprisingly agreed with him for once.
So, Gu Shenwei led four killers to observe Shopkeeper Mi’s house at night while the others stayed and waited for the news at the yard. If the shopkeeper really wanted to run away, Gu Shenwei would seize him.
It was a wintry night; the coldness of the wind penetrated even the bones. The five teenage killers lurked around Shopkeeper Mi’s house, some squatting at the foot of the wall, others were crouching on the roof and enduring the bitter cold that could freeze a person to death, but all were monitoring every move inside the Mi house.
Lotus jumped into the yard to look around, and when she came out she reported that there were two wagons, one full of boxes, and the other empty. The wagoners were drinking to warm up themselves and the saddle-cloth was already put on the horses. It seemed that they were about to set off soon.
Xu Xiaoyi’s guess was right.
Shopkeeper Mi was very anxious. In order to take over the position of big shield of the rice and flour industry from Bag Zhou, he had spent lots of money. He had wanted to earn a sum of money from Duke Gao, but ended up losing it all. It was over a hundred thousand taels of silver. He had not only lost his own savings, but was also at a loss as to what he could say to the merchants of the rice and flour trade and the deadly Qiu Society.
Tenth Gongzi and Yang Huan’s accidental visit during the day made Shopkeeper Mi feel even more guilty, so he decided to escape from Jade City as soon as possible.
He was waiting for the fifth night watch period to move out, which would be the quietest time for Southern Jade City. As for how far he could run away, he didn’t even dare to think about it.
It turned out that the carriage had just been hitched when Shopkeeper Mi and his wife, concubine, and three sons were blocked before they even left the courtyard.
Five masked men in black descended from the heavens with their sabres unsheathed like the Black and White emissaries sent from hell.
The two wagoners exchanged a glance and squatted under the wagon with their hands covering their heads, trying to show that they didn’t know or intend to see anything.
The bundle under Shopkeeper Mi’s arm fell onto the ground. He gasped and breathed in a mouthful of cold air but wasn’t able to spit out any words. His wife and sons stood behind him, trembling with fear.
Gu Shenwei waved his hand, and Shopkeeper Mi walked over as if he had lost his soul. His nose convulsed with each step he took, as if he was either going to cry out or express his disdain.
“Shopkeeper Mi is going out?”
When he heard that it was killer Yang Huan’s voice, Shopkeeper Mi finally closed his mouth. He swallowed his saliva with a mouthful of cold air and glanced back at his wife and sons, “Please, Lord Yang, kill me and let them go. The things on the wagon are enough for the fee of this month.”
“Even if they live today, they’ll die tomorrow.” Gu Shenwei said emotionlessly. He was actually telling the truth, because no one would pay for the debt Shopkeeper Mi had owned after his death. Naturally, his wife and sons would suffer retaliation, and the ones to carry it out would probably be killers hired from the Kun Society.
Shopkeeper Mi also knew the reality of the situation. He lowered his head and sighed, then raised his head again, showing a look of madness in a last fight in despair, “What if I can offer some very valuable information?”
“The killers can’t promise you anything, and I need to hear what you have to say first.” Gu Shenwei kept his composure and used the interrogation method he had learned from the Washing Heart Yard (Xi Xin Yuan), which was to let the prisoner spit out everything and not give the other side any opportunities to hide any secrets.
“I know who killed Duke Gao.” Shopkeeper Mi said with his eyes shining. He looked expectantly at the teenage killer. Aftering getting no enthusiastic response from the teenager, his eyes slowly dimmed.
“Zhou Huan, it must be him.”
Gu Shenwei vaguely remembered he had heard the name Zhou Huan before, but he couldn’t recall it clearly at the moment.
Shopkeeper Mi took the opportunity and revealed everything he knew, “Zhou Huan, the little Bag Zhou, Bag Zhou’s adopted son. Lord Yang may have seen him before. He used to be a shopboy of the rice shop, and later he put himself under the patronage of a bigwig, he was Duke Gao’s … plaything.”
Gu Shenwei now recalled that when Tie Hanfeng was still alive, he had followed his Master to visit all the shields, big and small, in Southern Jade City. He remembered that Bag Zhou was accompanied by a handsome young man, but that about it. Although Zhou Huan was good-looking, he wasn’t coy at all. No one would imagine that he was another man’s plaything when one first met him.
“Zhou Huan knew swordsmanship?” Gu Shenwei didn’t recall that handsome young man wearing any weapons.
“Yes.” Shopkeeper Mi was in a good mood as soon as he saw the other party become interested, “And it’s not bad. He seldom showed his kung fu because he didn’t rely on it to make a living, so very few people knew about it. I knew that he was the murderer as soon as I heard that Duke Gao died under sword. They had been arguing recently and were not in good relationship with each other.”
“You didn’t mention it earlier.”
“I … I didn’t want to cause trouble.”
Gu Shenwei snorted coldly and didn’t believe the statement. If Zhou Huan had really killed Duke Gao, Shopkeeper Mi should have hated him very much because all the silver he had lent had been reduced to ashes after Duke Gao’s death.
Shopkeeper Mi blushed, “Actually I just thought of him after you mentioned the raw rice grains. Zhou Huan likes eating raw rice and brings a handful of it with him. Ai, it is all meaningless to me now. Even if the real murderer is captured, I can’t get back my silver.”
“Who have you told about Tenth Gongzi?”
Shopkeeper Mi looked surprised, “No one, as soon as you two left, I started packing my stuff and haven’t seen anyone else since then.”
“Where does Zhou Huan live?”
“The Hengsheng Rice Shop at the corner. He used to be a shopboy there, but is the shopkeeper now.”
Gu Shenwei glanced at his companions and raised his narrow sabre.
“Lord Yang, Lord Yang, please, please forgive my life, I’ve told you everything I know and I’ll pay all the silver at the end of the month.” Shopkeeper Mi shook his hands in front his body as if he could stop the blade in this way.
“It would have been better if you said it earlier.”
Gu Shenwei slashed down, and one of Shopkeeper Mi’s fingers fell onto the ground.
‘There’s no need to kill a shield in debt, and it’s a better choice to keep him alive so he can continue paying money.’ Gu Shenwei thought and also explained his actions with this logic to Tenth Gongzi afterwards.
Shangguan Ru didn’t care about the money, as she was more interested in Zhou Huan, “What is a plaything?”
“A man ‘favoured’ by another man,” Gu Shenwei explained frankly since this little girl preferred to be a boy, and he had no need to be shy and hide his embarrassment.
“This works? Then a woman can also ‘favour’ another woman?” Shangguan Ru continued.
“Hmm, yes, whatever.” Gu Shenwei’s heart moved a bit. He suddenly recalled what he had overheard in the garden of the Meng family and couldn’t help suspecting the meaning of Tenth Gongzi’s words, so he pretended to be more at ease.
“Aiya, you two, one asked shamelessly, and one answered straight-facedly. Why are you talking about this, why don’t you just go and capture that Zhou Huan?” Shangguan Yushi couldn’t stand it anymore.
You should be the one to be red-faced, Gu Shenwei thought. But he was pleased that Shangguan Yushi changed the topic, “I’ll go search for him right away, to see if he’s being directed by someone behind him.”
Shangguan Ru wanted to join him for fun, and Gu Shenwei could only try to tell her how boring the task was by saying one couldn’t move or speak for a long time when performing the monitoring task. Shangguan Yushi also helped to persuade her, and finally dampened Tenth Gongzi’s enthusiasm.
This wasn’t the first time Gu Shenwei had felt that he and Yu Gongzi often thought along the same lines, because they had a similar goal, which was to cling to the big tree of Tenth Gongzi. They were enemies, but also peers in another sense.
Gu Shenwei wanted to spy on the suspect because he still had one question in mind. If Zhou Huan was a plaything and murderer, why did Ye Silang want to find the killer Yang Huan for trouble? Considering Ye Silang and Duke Gao’s relationship, he should have known the ins and outs of Zhou Huan and suspected him in the first place.
Gu Shenwei told Tenth Gongzi that the monitoring task was very boring. In fact, he didn’t want to spend the whole day watching a rice shop. He was going to go straight to the enemy’s camp.
But he still went a bit too late. The sun was up now, and all the shops on the street were open, only the Hengsheng Rice Shop’s door and windows were still closed. Gu Shenwei broke into it and found that there was no one inside. The shelves were neat and the rice bucket was full. Clearly, Zhou Huan had run away in a hurry.
A sabreman asked around and learnt that the Hengsheng Rice Shop had not opened for three days.
The investigation had begun too late. Gu Shenwei had already wasted the valuable time of the first several days after the murder of Duke Gao.
Several sabremen searched the shop carefully and finally found an important ‘clue’ in one of the rice buckets: A young man had died inside with his body covered in rice.
One sabreman said certainly that this man had been dead for at least three days.
Gu Shenwei took one look and vaguely recognized that this was Zhou Huan. The corpse held a sword in its hand, and its neck was half broken. Its head was tilted to one side, the wound like a laughing mouth, and the blood stained the rice.
It looked as if Zhou Huan had suicided. Gu Shenwei got into trouble once again.