After Chengfeng had buried ‘Liu Zhixi’, Xiaobao cautiously advised him to return home. But Chengfeng pretended not to hear him and kept going back to Cypress Jade House. Clearly Xiaobao’s advice fell on deaf ears, all he could do was pout and trail Chengfeng. He regretted giving Chengfeng the note.
The Cypress Jade House was located west of Cailian Alley, and situated at the heart of the city. Every afternoon or late evening, the entrance to the House would be crowded with visitors and customers.
It was exactly noon and the sun was at its peak. The gentle sun of winter warmed the bodies of the people. Chengfeng quickened his steps and entered the House. He gave the busboy a delighted greeting, who was at the entrance of the House.
The busboy was stunned upon seeing Chengfeng. He was about to quietly slip away, but Chengfeng placed a hand on his shoulder. He managed a forced smile for Chengfeng, “Oh, it’s you Master Li! Come in, come in! We haven’t seen you in so long,”
Chengfeng wasn’t quite sure to smile or not. He replied, “What’s the matter with you? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost! Is it because you think I’m bad luck, so you’re trying to avoid me?”
“That’s not true! Look at you, your face is filled with fortune and prosperity, your forehead is wide and your cheeks are full, you’re a literal indicator of wealth! There’s no way you’re bad luck!”
Chengfeng laughed in response and patted the busboy’s shoulder forcefully, “The words said to one’s face are often the sweetest. Alright! I won’t trouble you today. Is my room available?”
Little Two gritted his teeth and shrank away from Chengfeng, “Of course it’s available. No one would dare to take your room,”
Chengfeng laughed in response, “You know the rules! You screw it up and my fist will be right up your nose.”
The busboy dashed away while yelling out, “Hey, prepare the first room upstairs and bring some of the finest wines we have!” After saying this, he took one look at Chengfeng and rolled his eyes. ‘Let’s see how long can you keep up the bravado!’ he muttered to himself.
Chengfeng and Xiaobao ascended the steps to the second floor and walked along the corridor. They noticed that the floorboards were freshly oiled, the large glass grilles were polished clean. Everything was spick and span. At the corner of the room, a desk for writing was positioned against the wall. There were brushes, paper, and ink on the desk. It was made for people like Chengfeng, who wanted to write poems and drink wine at the same time. A few minutes later, the busboy entered the room with a forced smile. He set the table up and brought the snacks and wine.
Xiaobao stood meekly behind the both of them and held his breath. One wrong word and he might just piss his already cranky master off.
Chengfeng dined on his snacks and wine for a while. Suddenly, rushed footsteps could be heard from the outside, and someone pushed the door open. The person was stout, he donned a fur coat and hood. Upon entering the room, he turned to close the door and pulled his hood back, revealing his dark, tanned face. It was Qiu Liangsheng.
Liangsheng looked at Chengfeng with a worried, complicated look. He sat down and sighed, “Why are you like this, brother?”
Chengfeng poured a glass for Liangsheng and replied, “Some things are meant to be done.”
Liangsheng raised his glass, “But some matters are meant to be ignored.”
“The pains of being human,” Chengfeng laughed, somewhat wistfully.
While the two went back and forth, Xiaobao eavesdropped. He could more or less guess what they were talking about. They were talking about the Liu Zhixi matter.
Liangsheng glared at Chengfeng, but quickly changed his demeanor and laughed. He took a sip and said, “I knew you’d say that.”
“That’s why you willingly wrote that in your note,” Chengfeng laughed.
“Misfortunes are inevitable. You had to face it sooner or later, or there would’ve been consequences,” Liangsheng lamented.
“Regardless, this one’s for you.” Chengfeng poured another glass for him.
Chengfeng and Liangsheng continued to drink and banter back and forth. Eventually the alcohol made them tipsy and cheery. “To have a brother like you in Cheng’an City, it is somewhat peculiar.”
Chengfeng poured another glass for him and asked, “Why would you say that?”
Liangsheng raised his glass and pondered, “The city isn’t very big, it’s like a clear pond. You can see everything that’s going on. When you look at certain people and things, you’ll know how they’re gonna turn out eventually. You’ve been here in Cheng’an for ten years, but I’ve been here for more than thirty years. Have you ever wondered? The people on the street, the ones whom you grew up with… they grow up to act like their parents, and their children grow up to act like them. It’s like being stuck in a time loop… it’s interesting.”
Liangsheng looked at Chengfeng and laughed, “But you’re different. I can’t see through you, I don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You’re not like the others here in the city.”
As Xiaobao silently observed, he felt that he had misjudged Liangsheng. There was some truth to his words. He may look uncouth and impulsive on the surface, but when he chopped Su Zhixian up, it seemed like the most sensible reaction given the situation.
It’s like the saying, ‘never judge a book by its cover’.
Chengfeng asked as he filled Liangsheng’s glass, “What did the prefecture chief say?”
“Brother, they really hate your guts.” Liangsheng shook his head.
Chengfeng chuckled bitterly, “Didn’t you tell them? I was tricked into getting in there! What about Silver Hairpin? If we can find her then they’ll know the truth!”
“Already found her,” Liangsheng chuckled.
“Where is she? I’ll sort her out,” Chengfeng was ecstatic.
Liangsheng chuckled, “Sure, but you’re gonna have to slit your throat first.”
Chengfeng’s eyes grew wide, “She’s dead?! When?”
“About a night ago. They found her body about ten metres from the Cheng’an river.”
Chengfeng slowly sunk back into his chair. It was sobering news. Her death could spell big trouble for him.
The case now had zero witnesses to back him up!
“Who did it?” Chengfeng’s expression was pained.
Liangsheng slowly shook his head. “No one knows…”
Chengfeng slammed the table in a fit of rage, causing the wine bottle to nearly topple.
Liangsheng paused and then exhaled, “However…”
Chengfeng grabbed a tiny pouch from his pocket, which made chinking noises as it moved. He threw it on the table and yelled, “Say it!”
Liangsheng smiled as he retrieved the pouch and weighed it in his palm, and then he put it in his chest pocket. “Thanks, brother!”
Xiaobao watched the scene unfold, and rolled his eyes.
Liangsheng spoke, “There’s a lead, but it won’t clear your name. It might just help weed out some suspicions.”
“I’ve looked at the coroner’s report. It says that Zhixin was smothered to death.”
Chengfeng kept his cold, steely stare. It was frightening. “And then?”
“Based on the coroner’s judgement, a day prior to the adultery.”
“Who did it? Can it be traced?”
“Only inferences could be made. But no one knows.” Liangsheng said while shaking his head.
Chengfeng filled Liangsheng’s glass and replied, “Just say it,”
Liangsheng took a long swig, “You know Zhixin had a pursuer, right?”
“How would I know? Everyone was clamoring after her anyways,”
“The pursuer’s name starts with Zhou,”
Chengfeng paused, “Zhou Qingyang? From the Zhou family in Tong’an?”
“Yep, that’s him.”
“He did it?”
“According to the other servants in the Zhixin House, they were pretty close. A few days before the incident, they were heard fighting. Zhixin wanted to leave, but Qingyang didn’t let her, and so they argued. Qingyang ended up slapping her.”
Chengfeng’s face was expressionless. “Carry on.”
“But here’s the interesting part. Almost everyone of the other servants mentioned that Silver Hairpin was involved.”
“According to the report, Silver Hairpin was two months pregnant.”
Chengfeng fell into a deep thought. He had a glimmer to his eyes, as if connecting the dots.
Liangsheng continued, “Although there’s no proof, it’s almost pretty obvious. Qingyang had been trying to court Zhixin, but to no avail. So he hooked up with Silver Hairpin, hoping to get one foot into the door. At the same time, Silver Hairpin wanted something to do with the young Master Zhou. Hence, the pregnancy.”
Chengfeng interrupted, “But the pregnancy got her worried, so she started pressuring Qingyang to make arrangements. But all he wanted was a piece of the Zhixin cake. By then, Zhixin had already caught on. Hastily, he decided to smother her. Silver Hairpin panicked and she wanted a scapegoat. So, I happened to walk right into this mess...”
Liangsheng clapped his hands gleefully, “Not bad, your guess is quite similar to mine. However, my guess is that Zhixin was actually smothered by Silver Hairpin. Because as rigor mortis set in, the handprints on the neck began to surface. Those handprints belong to a lady’s.”
Chengfeng stood up and gritted his teeth, his eyes wild with fury. “He didn’t kill Zhixin, but she’s dead because of him!”
“Why? Wanna avenge her?” Liangsheng watched with amusement.
Xiaobao suddenly spoke up urgently, “No! Master, please don’t!”
But the plea fell on deaf ears. Chengfeng’s eyes remain glued on Liangsheng. “Where is he?!”
Liangsheng guffawed in response, “He’s at Liu Sumei’s Falling Blossom Residence!”
Like the wind, Chengfeng dashed out of the room. Xiaobao hurried after him while yelling, “Master, don’t go! Don’t do anything! We can’t get into any more trouble!”
Chengfeng turned to face Xiaobao with a murderous glare, which silenced Xiaobao. Xiaobao knew this expression well. He swallowed his words. He saw Liangsheng languidly walk over with the bottle of wine, while singing a tune. “I saw the ebb and flow of the tides, I saw the clouds form and disperse, white horses dash across the eternal plains, the flowers under the moonlight seem to bloom in reverse…”
Xiaobao stared at Liangsheng with hatred. He had been right all along: he really was a despicable scum of the earth!