Huo ZhenYe got up and dusted himself. The first time this happened, they were still strangers, whereas, by the second time, they had already become somewhat familiar with each other. So, despite being thrown out, he was in a very good mood and walked out of YuQing with a smile.
Meanwhile, Bai Zhun was sitting stiffly on the bed. Covered with the quilt that Huo ZhenYe had used, one could not determine from the expression on his face whether he was furious or not.
With one hand grasping the quilt, a crumpled crease appeared on it. Bai Zhun’s hand clenched and loosened before he finally laid down, and the crease remained on the satin material.
Ah Xiu leaned against the door and looked at Bai Zhun curiously. Compared to other paper dolls, Ah Xiu had a greater understanding of human nature, and she had felt the several changes in her master’s mood.
For her master’s anger to diminish this quickly should mean that he liked that person.
The next day, in the early morning, Huo ZhenYe pestered Mother Liu to make some sweet milk custard.
As such a dish took a lot of effort, Mother Liu frowned upon hearing his request. “This is what little children eat. I thought you did not like it anymore?”
“It is not for me but my friend who wants to eat it.” Huo ZhenYe put his arm around Mother Liu’s shoulder and said, “I already boasted that Mother Liu’s sweet milk custard is something that could not be tasted anywhere else in the whole of Shanghai.”
Such flattery was very useful on Mother Liu. When she heard that his friend wanted to eat it, she put down her rag. “What friend? What surname? What does she look like, pretty or not?”
Huo ZhenYe recalled Bai Zhun’s appearance and replied while gesturing. “His surname is Bai, and his skin is very white. With bright black hair, his nose bridge is also around this high.”1For clarification, the gender nouns in Chinese were not as obvious (pronunciation wise) as those in English (e.g. he and she). In Chinese, gender is indeed distinguishable from “他” (male) and “她” (female) but it is indiscernible in pronunciation because their pinyin is the same – both pronounced as “ta”. So, even if Huo ZhenYe used the male form, Mother Liu would not have known, hence the misunderstanding.
It was indeed too feminine to describe him like this, but apart from beautiful, Huo ZhenYe really could not find any other adjectives at this point in time.
“Does Miss Bai wear machine-woven cloth or silk?” Mother Liu did not approve of Huo ZhenYe finding a young lady that embodied foreigners’ culture2 The author used “喝过洋墨水” (literally “drank western’s ink”) which is a term used to refer to those who went overseas to learn a foreigner’s culture, science and technology, aspects of life, etc. after China exit “seclusion” during the late Qing dynasty. Now, it usually refers to Chinese citizens who went overseas to study.. After all, those kinds of young ladies could not get along with Madam Huo.
It would also be best if she were the young lady of an influential family. This way, both Master and Madam Huo would be satisfied, and he would have enough face to return to his old home in the future.
Meanwhile, as Huo ZhenYe recalled how Bai Zhun was always covered with light white silk, he replied with a smile, “He wears silk clothes with silk inner lining.”
Hearing this, Mother Liu grinned from ear to ear. Thinking that Huo ZhenYe was delivering it to a potential girlfriend, she immediately got busy. Pouring milk and separating the ingredients, she asked him, “Should I make it sweeter or milder?”
“It definitely must be sweet.”
Mother Liu smiled brighter. “Yes, that is right. Young ladies have a preference for sweeter stuff. Those who like sweet things also usually have a better temper, as they are happy.”
Initially, Mother Liu was afraid that Huo ZhenYe would be upset after being rejected by the Tao family. They were really too much to listen to hearsay. Although the young master had indeed caused a mess, he would definitely not get entangled with the dancing ladies.
So, witnessing his attempts at pleasing the girl, she utilized her full skills and not only made sweet milk custard but also made a basket of bean curd skin buns.
Half with vegetarian stuffing and half with meat stuffing, the buns were stuffed full. Once the bean curd skin was bitten open, the soup inside would flow out.
She put them in a box and handed it to Huo ZhenYe. “Here. I asked Ah Zhen to cut some flowers from the greenhouse so you can give her this together with the flowers.”
In the end, with one hand holding the food box and another holding roses, Huo ZhenYe quickly left the house. Only when he reached the front door did he shout, “Mother Liu, my friend is a man.”
After saying that, he entered the car and took the roses to the Bai family house.
When Ah Xiu opened the door, Bai Zhun was still sleeping. Having expended his spirit for two days in a row, he would definitely not get up until noon today.
Ah Xiu’s eyes roved up and down, scrutinizing Huo ZhenYe.
“What? Are you not going to open the door for me?” Huo ZhenYe initially wanted to leave after dropping the things off, but Ah Xiu actually opened the door for him.
She took over the roses and stared at them curiously. There were many of such beautiful flowers in their house too. After all, flowers were needed to make offerings, and the ones Bai Zhun made were pretty similar to the real ones.
From the color, form, to the dark and light green color of the pedicel, they were the same. However, despite such similarities, they were still different. Ah Xiu touched the petals and, after a while, arranged them before showing Huo ZhenYe.
Huo ZhenYe almost laughed upon seeing it. Ah Xiu had inserted the flowers in a paper flower basket, but there was not even water inside. That way, how could the flowers survive?
Just as he was about to teach Ah Xiu how to use water to raise flowers properly, a knock came at the door, and Second Liu’s voice traveled in, “Seventh Master, please save my Senior Brother.”
Before Ah Xiu moved, Huo ZhenYe had already frowned. Why was it him again? In order to catch Jin DanGui, Bai Zhun had spent great energy to craft the paper Impermanence. Now, before he could have a good rest, the two brothers were here again.
Bai Zhun, who got woken up, came out of the house with a heavy face. Looking weak and weary, he saw Huo ZhenYe first and asked Ah Xiu, “Why did you let him in?”
Ah Xiu felt muddled. Her master clearly did not detest Huo ZhenYe, as every time he came, she could feel slight happiness from him.
Bai Zhun pursed his lips, knowing that Ah Xiu was trying to figure him out. He could consent outwardly but disagree inwardly to others, but he could not hide from those paper dolls.
When Huo ZhenYe saw Bai Zhun lose his temper, he raised his hands honestly. “It is none of my business. I only brought you food.”
Bai Zhun’s bamboo wheelchair rolled to the table, and Ah Xiu took out the glass bowl in the box. Holding it in his hand, he used a small spoon to remove the red and green silk3“红绿丝” (literally “red and green silk”) is something that is commonly used as fillings for food such as glutinous rice balls, moon cakes, and pastries in the past. Usually, they are made with pickled orange peel, pickled radish skin, and pickled melon skin with food coloring. From what I researched, it also seemed like not a lot of people like the taste of it. on top and only picked out the raisins to eat.
Seeing that, Huo ZhenYe kept in mind that he did not eat the red and green silk but touched the raisins.
Only when Bai Zhun had picked out all the things he did not want to eat, he finally dug out a small spoonful from the bowl. With the milk congealed into a paste, one could also taste the sweetness of fermented glutinous rice with just a spoonful.
Meanwhile, Second Liu was still knocking on the door, but Bai Zhun did not stop eating. He just signaled to Ah Xiu to open the door and let him in.
In the next moment, Second Liu then entered with Big Liu on his back and Han Zhu following after them.
Bai Zhun’s eyes swept over them and stopped on Han Zhu.
Han Zhu already knew that although she could hide the fact that she had changed the rune paper from others, she would not be able to hide this matter from Bai Zhun. Nonetheless, she still met Bai Zhun’s eyes directly without flinching. Since she had done it, she would not stop here.
As soon as Second Liu entered the door, he said, “Seventh Master, what is wrong with my Senior Brother?”
Bai Zhun was displeased, and the corners of his eyes narrowed. Seeing this, Second Liu immediately stopped talking, and the three of them looked at Bai Zhun.
Remaining unmoved, Bai Zhun then slowly finished a bowl of custard before reluctantly putting down the small spoon.
When Huo ZhenYe saw this, he lightly chuckled before pretending to cough to cover it up. “Sorry, my throat is itchy.”
Bai Zhun glared at him. Then, he finally looked towards Second Liu and signaled for him to continue.
Second Liu reached out and untied the silk scarf around Liu’s neck. Last night, the marks were still reddish, but today, it had turned vermilion with faint traces of green and purple.
Jin DanGui’s resentment was hard to dispel. Although she was sent to the netherworld, Big Liu had still gotten hurt by her ghostly power.
Bai Zhun bid them a glance and said, “Bring him back.”
They had carried Big Liu here to get help. So when they heard Bai Zhun’s words, they thought there was no saving Big Liu anymore.
As Big Liu cried out, Second Liu said in a panic, “Seventh Master, please save my Senior Brother. Whatever you want, I will try my best to get it for you.”
“It does not have to be cured, it will heal naturally.” Although the sweet milk custard was to his liking and he had just completed a business deal, he still refused to help.
“Then, when will it be okay?” Han Zhu had asked this question.
“Three to five years. When the resentment dissipates, he will be fine.”
“But-but we brothers rely on our speech to earn a living. If we lie in bed for three years, we will lose our skills.”
“What does it have to do with me?” With Bai Zhun’s patience running out, he looked at Big Liu and continued, “You have already reached this state, so you should not hide it anymore and teach your brother the necessary skills. Otherwise, Third Master Han’s secret skills will be lost.”
If Big Liu were willing to pass the skills, he would have already done so when he was in prison. So, in his heart, he was clearly aware of the reason for “safeguarding” them.
“Since the Seventh Master had said so, we should not make things difficult for him. Let us go back.” Han Zhu even bowed to Bai Zhun before continuing, “Many thanks to Seventh Master for helping my family.”
Bai Zhun knew what Han Zhu had done, but for the sake of Third Master Han, he remained cordial to her.
When Second Liu heard his Senior Sister’s words, he carried Big Liu on his back and intended to leave. However, Big Liu refused, and Second Liu coaxed, “There is no need for Senior Brother to be afraid. Whether it is three or five years, I will take care of you. After all, we are still young, and it will heal if we take care of it slowly.”
In front of Bai Zhun, Second Liu had dared not say anything else. However, he had already decided that if Bai Zhun was unwilling to cure it, there were always others who would. After all, it was not as if they did not have any other friends in this world.
After the three of them left, Huo ZhenYe asked Bai Zhun, “Is it because you cannot cure it, or you are just unwilling to do so?”
Bai Zhun’s answer was straightforward. “Unwilling.”
Huo ZhenYe had also guessed so. “I am going to the precinct today.”
Bai Zhun said in response, “Quickly get out of here then.” Wanting to go back to sleep, he turned and entered the house.
“There is going to be an end today.”
When Bai Zhun did not respond, Huo ZhenYe shouted after him, “Tonight, I will bring some shark fin in braised soy sauce.”
What was delicious about that? He might as well bring stir-fried vermicelli. Bai Zhun entered his house and laid on the bed. Feeling sore from his waist above, he thought that the paper Impermanence had really been made too hastily.
Meanwhile, Huo ZhenYe, who drove to the precinct, saw that Da Tou was already waiting for him. “Young Master Huo, the footprints and fingerprints reports are out. The rest are currently checking and comparing them!”
Da Tou had waited for a whole morning. When he called the Huo Residence, they said Huo ZhenYe had already left quite early, making him extremely anxious. After all, these were clearly clues that Huo ZhenYe discovered. If the killer were caught first by others, Huo ZhenYe would be robbed of his credit.
“We even compared them to the workers who delivered milk to Su ManLi. Isn’t this like finding a needle in the sea?” They had already checked those who have been in contact with Jin DanGui and Su ManLi. However, before the first case could be resolved, the second case took place, causing the remaining ten beauties to be in danger.
And as soon as those ladies became afraid, they had coquettishly persuaded their customers to put pressure on the precinct.
Meanwhile, the two big bosses of XianYue Palace and The Paramount were also prominent businessmen in the settlement. With the case unresolved, their customers had decreased, causing them to keep a heavy eye on the precinct too.
All of these factors caused Chief Song to become really anxious. Currently, he was also undergoing an admonitory talk with his superiors.
Huo ZhenYe waved his hand. “No worries. Come with me to have a bowl of sour plum drink.”
Bringing another two policemen along, Huo ZhenYe then drove to the Old City.
In the Old City, there were many food stalls gathered. With rickshaw pullers and those who carried big loads at the pier eating here, one could find all kinds of dishes and snacks.
Huo ZhenYe found a table while Da Tou and two other policemen shared a glance with each other. They were obviously used to eating in such a place, but how could Young Master Huo, a person with a different identity, sit at the same table with them?
The vendor came over. “What would you like, sir?”
“Three bowls of sour plum drink, add more ice.”
With Huo ZhenYe not speaking, Da Tou and the two policemen only lowered their heads and drank. Meanwhile, Huo ZhenYe was wondering if Bai Zhun had ever drank soda before.
When Da Tou was halfway through his bowl of sour plum drink, the other policemen kept giving him a meaningful look, so he asked Huo ZhenYe carefully, “Young Master Huo, what are going to do after this?”
“When we finish drinking, we will be going to catch the murderer for Su ManLi’s case.” At this moment, with three of his fingers wrapped around the edge of the bowl, he gazed at a figure in the distance and drank everything in one go.
“He is here.” Putting down the bowl, he then went forward.
At this moment, Second Liu had pushed his stall out and was preparing to perform his tricks.
After what happened with Big Liu, the teahouse that they have been performing at did not want to get involved, so Second Liu had to go back to the streets and piers to perform. Just as he was about to shake open the colored cloth and perform “Immortal Sowing Beans”4“仙人摘豆” (“Immortal Sowing Beans” or known as “Chinese Cups and Balls”) is a magic trick that originated as early as the Longshan Culture Period, pre-Shang Dynasty (before 1600 B.C.). The props used consisted of a fan, mat, and between 2 and 6 bowls, with between 3 and 10 beans. The most common numbers being 2 bowls with 3 or 5 beans. Those interested to watch it could try viewing these videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCPoO_GKNXI + https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEkhs4XN7eY to warm up and attract some audience, he saw Huo ZhenYe approaching with two policemen.
Second Liu panicked. His fear of Huo ZhenYe was not because he was a wealthy young master but because of his eyes. Despite always being filled with smiling intent, Huo ZhenYe’s every glance seemed to be able to see through his heart.
Turning around, he kept the cloth and intended to leave. Huo ZhenYe called out, “If you leave Shanghai now by train or boat, it is true that we will not be able to catch you.”
“However, if we cannot find you, we will search for your Senior Sister.”
Hearing that, Second Liu’s steps halted.
- 1For clarification, the gender nouns in Chinese were not as obvious (pronunciation wise) as those in English (e.g. he and she). In Chinese, gender is indeed distinguishable from “他” (male) and “她” (female) but it is indiscernible in pronunciation because their pinyin is the same – both pronounced as “ta”. So, even if Huo ZhenYe used the male form, Mother Liu would not have known, hence the misunderstanding.
- 2The author used “喝过洋墨水” (literally “drank western’s ink”) which is a term used to refer to those who went overseas to learn a foreigner’s culture, science and technology, aspects of life, etc. after China exit “seclusion” during the late Qing dynasty. Now, it usually refers to Chinese citizens who went overseas to study.
- 3“红绿丝” (literally “red and green silk”) is something that is commonly used as fillings for food such as glutinous rice balls, moon cakes, and pastries in the past. Usually, they are made with pickled orange peel, pickled radish skin, and pickled melon skin with food coloring. From what I researched, it also seemed like not a lot of people like the taste of it.
- 4“仙人摘豆” (“Immortal Sowing Beans” or known as “Chinese Cups and Balls”) is a magic trick that originated as early as the Longshan Culture Period, pre-Shang Dynasty (before 1600 B.C.). The props used consisted of a fan, mat, and between 2 and 6 bowls, with between 3 and 10 beans. The most common numbers being 2 bowls with 3 or 5 beans. Those interested to watch it could try viewing these videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCPoO_GKNXI + https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEkhs4XN7eY