Chapter 157 Rice Shop
Shangguan Yushi had firmly opposed Tenth Gongzi’s going to Southern Jade City, saying that Duke Gao’s death was a good lesson and that they should not give the Qiu Society any chance to avenge him. She also blamed Servant Huan for instigating the lord into taking risks.
But she knew that with Tenth Gongzi’s temper, strongly opposing her would only backfire, so she quickly changed her mind and agreed to the trip, also insisting that they should take Wild Horse and Liuhua with them.
Gu Shenwei felt his head hurt because no matter how the two gongzis of the Shangguan family saw themselves as men, they were still teenage girls in the eyes of others. It was kind of weird to even think about the two leading three teenage killers to investigate a case in a brothel.
Shangguan Ru flatly refused the suggestion, and she only allowed Yu Gongzi to help her put on some makeup so that she would seem a bit more like a boy.
Shangguan Yushi looked very bad when Servant Huan and Tenth Gongzi left the next morning.
As they walked through the narrow and cold streets of Southern Jade City, Shangguan Ru took a deep breath and said, “Aiya, here am I at last. Why are there so few people around? I heard that Southern Jade City was the busiest place in the world.”
“That’s in the evening,” Gu Shenwei said while vigilantly looking around. He chose to come to Southern Jade City during the day precisely to avoid the noisy crowd.
Two sabremen were already waiting outside the checkpoint. They presented their leader’s sword and sabre and another narrow sabre as soon as they saw the two and then retreated.
“Oh.” Shangguan Ru tied the narrow sabre by her waist and pointed at a shabby hut across the street, “Is that a whorehouse?”
“Mmm, but it’s not the one we’re looking for.”
Gu Shenwei took the little lord all the way to the retention alley. Shangguan Ru was in high spirits and asked questions about everything that she saw. She was especially interested in the forces behind those merchants and Servant Huan introduced them to her one by one, some of whom even he himself was in the dark regarding their backing.
When they were almost at the retention alley, Shangguan Ru frowned and said, “So our Kun Society only manages this small amount of people.”
Almost all of the merchants that the Kun Society had seized were originally the big young lord’s resources. They only got forty or fifty percent of them, but it was already a good result for the cheap price of several dozens of people. Of course it was still too little when compared to the whole Southern Jade City.
“All things are difficult before they are easy,” Gu Shenwei comforted her. He also wanted to expand their power, the faster the better.
The small buildings on either side of the retention alley were obviously more beautiful than those in other places. Shangguan Ru’s interests were aroused again, especially when she heard that most of the famous prostitutes in the Western Regions lived here. So she asked Servant Huan about who was living in those houses one by one. Gu Shenwei actually knew very little about it. Shangguan Ru, however, did not believe him. Judging from her expression, she seemed to think that Servant Huan was just too shy to admit it.
Duke Gao had died in a brothel on the east side of the retention alley, where an inch of land was worth its weight in gold. The two teenage detectives had come far too late. As soon as the corpse was removed, a new prostitute had already moved inside. They even used the tragedy as a selling point to attract guests. It was said that if one paid an extra hundred taels of silver, one could lie in bed with the prostitute to ‘bloodily’ reproduce the scene of that night.
The maidservants and old biddy were also different. They yawned when opening the door, and upon hearing that the two hadn’t come looking for a prostitute, they simply didn’t let them in.
The insiders of the case were all not there so it was useless even if they did go inside. Tenth Gongzi’s first attempt to break in a brothel failed, and she almost revealed her true identity before she was pulled away by Servant Huan.
The retention alley in the morning was the quietest place in Southern Jade City, and they were the only two people in the whole street. Shangguan Ru was very disappointed, and asked, “How many brothels are under our control here?”
“Only one.” Gu Shenwei didn’t want to discourage Tenth Gongzi because even the only one was his private sponsorship. He also didn’t correct her mistake. The Kun Society didn’t ‘control’ those merchants; it only collected money and provided the corresponding protection.
Most of the big young lord Shangguan Chui’s properties were normal businesses, and the only sinful places he owned were all small brothels outside of the retention alley. More than half of the retention alley belonged to the Meng family, and the other half was still more or less related to the Meng family. But the Qiu Society didn’t take advantage of the connection, and they ended up having a similar status at the retention alley as the Kun Society.
In order to satisfy Tenth Gongzi’s curiosity, Gu Shenwei could only lead her to ‘the only brothel they owned’.
The siblings of the Xu family were sleeping, and the newly hired little maidservant opened the door with sleepy eyes. Seeing the lord come, she immediately put on an enchanting smile.
Xu Xiaoyi was a bit clever. He got up to say hello to Brother Huan, and then stared at the shorter teenager for a while before he suddenly knelt down and bowed respectfully to greet Tenth Gongzi.
Shangguan Ru was both happy and disappointed and repeatedly asked how she had been found out. Yu Gongzi had dressed her up as a sallow-faced invalid who she herself couldn’t even recognize in the mirror.
“Uhh, a noble has a noble appearance that can’t be concealed. Even if Tenth Gongzi dresses up like a beggar, Tenth Gongzi still gives off … well, how do I say this … a domineering aura.”
The flattery hit just the spot, and Shangguan Ru smiled like a flower and immediately had a very good impression of Xu Xiaoyi.
Gu Shenwei knew very well that this kid was talking nonsense. He must have recognized that she was Tenth Gongzi from Brother Huan’s attitude, which had nothing to do with the so-called nobility or domineering aura.
Tenth Gongzi had come to visit, so Xu Xiaoyi rushed upstairs in a panic to knock on his sister’s door.
Gu Shenwei was a bit worried about Xu Yanwei’s attitude, for he didn’t know which face she would wear this time. The result surprised him. Almost at the same time that Shangguan Ru sat down, Xu Yanwei had already dressed up formally and started walking downstairs in high spirits as if she hadn’t just woken up.
It was hard to say which of the two girls had a deeper curiosity, as the two looked at each other and carefully examined each other. Not long after, they began talking like close friends who had been playing together since childhood and unrestrainedly chatted about everything with each other.
They ate lunch together. As they talked about Duke Gao’s death, the sister and brother of the Xu family were a bit sad. Xu Yanwei had served this duke before and had a very good impression of him, “I was little at that time, but Duke Gao really cared about me and he was also willing to spend money …”
Xu Yanwei probably felt that it was not proper to say these words in front of Tenth Gongzi, so she quickly shut her mouth.
There were a lot of rumours about this tragedy in the retention alley, but the siblings of the Xu family hadn’t heard of the one about rice grains on the bed when Shangguan Ru mentioned it. So they immediately opened their eyes wide to discuss it enthusiastically.
“Rice grains, rice grains, this might imply something. Isn’t there a saying ‘Cooked rice can never go back to being raw’? But what does this sentence mean?” Xu Xiaoyi tried to connect them. Seeing no one answer, he lost himself in his thoughts.
“Perhaps they were playing some tricks. When Duke Gao and I were together, we …” Out of professional habit, Xu Yanwei thought the same way as the patrol commandant, but she still stopped saying it halfway.
Shangguan Ru was still waiting for her to explain it in detail before Gu Shenwei hastily changed the topic.
As they were talking, Xu Xiaoyi, who hadn’t spoken for a long while suddenly raised his head, his eyebrows unfold. “You should check the rice shop, maybe … Ouch.”
Gu Shenwei kicked him under the table, but it was too late.
“What to check in the rice shop? Every family has rice, so how do they know where those rice grains come from?”
Xu Xiaoyi looked at Brother Huan carefully, and excitedly said after seeing a hint of a nod, “Every trade has their own shield, and all the shields have a few goons. Sometimes these goons will leave their marks to show their own characteristics. For example, the goons from the clothing industry will tack a piece of red silk …”
“The goons from the rice trade will leave rice grains?” Shangguan Ru asked eagerly.
“I haven’t heard of it before, but it’s worth asking.”
Shangguan Ru nodded thoughtfully. “It’s worth asking around. Why didn’t you and Commandant Zhong think of this?” Shangguan Ru asked Servant Huan.
“We’re not familiar with Southern Jade City, unlike Xu Xiaoyi who grew up here.”
Actually Gu Shenwei had thought of it a long time ago and he was sure that Zhong Heng had also thought of it. In fact, that slippery officer probably wanted to shirk his responsibility by deliberately saying the most important piece of information casually at the last moment. Gu Shenwei just wanted to send Tenth Gongzi back to Northern Jade City and cope with the day, so he didn’t mention it in front of Shangguan Ru. He didn’t expect that Xu Xiaoyi would say it.
Having no other way out, Gu Shenwei could only lead Tenth Gongzi to visit the shield of the rice and flour trade that afternoon.
Bag Zhou, the former shield of the rice and flour trade, had been ‘reaped’ by the Master and disciple. His successor was surnamed Mi (rice), and didn’t like to be called ‘Rice Bag’, so everyone called him Shopkeeper Mi.
Shopkeeper Mi had worked for Bag Zhou for many years, but he still had to spend much money to be the big shield. So he had no feelings for the previous shield, and instead, he was even a little happy about Bag Zhou’s misery. He was one of the first shields who had joined Tenth Gongzi when the fight between the Kun and Qiu Society broke out, and had no resentment towards Yang Huan at all.
Shopkeeper Mi was short with a thin beard. He didn’t look like a shield who provided protection services for businesses, but rather like a worried accountant. His house was littered with rice sacks, which was so messy that the guests hardly had any room to plant their feet.
Shopkeeper Mi greeted Tenth Gongzi with a pleasant surprise in his voice. He personally arranged a vacant lot to treat the guests and kept saying, “Your gracious presence has made my humble house shine” while ordering the servants to bring tea.
Gu Shenwei originally wanted to come alone, but he actually found Tenth Gongzi’s presence to not be too bad as it was easier for Shopkeeper Mi to tell the truth when confronted with the identity of the Unique King’s ‘son’.
Shopkeeper Mi indeed didn’t dare to refuse, and he counted all of his goons one by one before swearing, “Impossible. Those guys are just ordinary sabremen, they are not good at swords, let alone experts at using swords.”
“You’re saying that they are not good at using swords, so there’s actually someone who uses a sword?” Gu Shenwei asked.
“No no. I just said it casually. Seriously, how many people wear swords now except those esteemed gongzis? Swordsmen like Ye Silang are really rare, and which one would be willing to be a thug in the rice and flour trade?”
Shopkeeper Mi looked sincere and there was no need for him to lie, so the two took their leave. Their only clue to find the murderer had disappeared.
“It looks like the major suspect is still Ye Silang. The other swordsmen at Jade City have very little connection to Duke Gao,” Shangguan Ru guessed.
Gu Shenwei thought the same way. He recalled Commandant Zhong’s ‘problem-solving’ philosophy, but it was useless here. What he wanted was not to get rid of the suspicion because he would duel with Ye Silang no matter what. He just wanted to find out who was the real culprit. Even if he did not reveal it, he still wanted to know what enemy was hiding in the dark.
If this enemy was Ye Silang, he must know the reason.
It was getting dark and the streets grew more and more crowded, and the shops that did business at night began to glow with lights. Shangguan Ru’s interests shifted again.
‘She will probably hang out for the whole night,’ Gu Shenwei thought. He had to arrange a group of sabremen to secretly protect her.
A kid over ten years old bumped into them and rashly stuffed a piece of paper into Shangguan Ru’s hands before he ran away, which nearly caused Gu Shenwei to draw his sabre and kill him.
Gu Shenwei grabbed the kid by the arm, “Who asked you to send this?”
“I don’t know. Someone in a cloak, over there.”
“Look.” Shangguan Ru handed the paper slip to Servant Huan, her voice filled with surprise and excitement.
Gu Shenwei loosened his hand, and the kid dashed off.
There was only one line of words written on the slip of paper, “The swordsman is in the Blacksmith’s Village, right now.”