Barking Up the Wrong Tree – Ministry of Rites Turns
Night was falling by the time Tang Ye finished fifty steamers. He wrestled with his nausea to ask his questions. He suavely left with his hand over his mouth.
Meanwhile, Huang Shulang increased his enthusiasm in calling challengers, adding more to his income through the meat bun arena. In essence, Tang Ye helped him vent and helped him promote his business for free. However, he didn't look happy; he looked different to his usual self. He wore a frigid look after Tang Ye left. It was apparent to him Tang Ye was searching for Lu Xiazou. He gave some short instructions before heading upstairs.
There were two rows of towering and imposing guards outside the room. Ten or so men dressed in Han clothing, but they actually wielded the North's most popular curved broadsword. Huang Shulang whispered something to one of the guards, who then nodded: "You can leave now. Report back if there is anything else."
The guard didn't show Huang Shulang any courtesy. Huang Shulang nodded and left with a smile. He was scared, though he actually thought, "Fucking barbarians! You think I'm your pigeon?! I'd be the first to report you to Shuntian Prefecture if it wasn't for Secretary Kong protecting you!"
The guard went into the room after Huang Shulang left. The guard stepped gently as though he was afraid he'd disturb the two sitting inside.
A young man between twenty five and twenty six looked clean and proper, but his long face, literally, ruined his aesthetics. He wore light makeup and rouge. He drew around his eyes, giving them a faint purple shade. His idea of facial aesthetics was rather disturbing. There was a trace of conceit accompanying his feminine gestures when he spoke. Based off appearances alone, there was no possible way of determining this gender. According to the seating arrangement, he was the master of the room.
The guest was an elder between sixty to seventy years old. His wrinkles on his forehead were deep as knife gashes. He dressed in a scholar's robe and sported a refined demeanour. Though old, he was once a refined young man. With a smile, he asked, "Lord Yang, you can't trust this old one? This old one is the reigning department head of the Ministry of Rights; you think he would not keep his word?"
Kong Duan, reigning head of the Ministry of Rights, looked as serious as he would look in the imperial court. He smiled as though his usual stern speech and mannerisms were a charade.
The young man, Lord Yang, Yang Lianhua, adopted an ambivalent countenance: "Of course I do. We both stand to gain. We agreed to make our move three months later, though; you are asking to deviate from the original plan. You asked me to act on two days' notice and sent out the cavalry, which ended up apprehended today. Had it not been for the restaurant's intervention, I am afraid the plan would already be exposed.
Your sudden change in plans bemused me. Secretary Kong, are you with the restaurant, or are you trying help the imperial court ensnare the restaurant. Hahaha, this is an important matter. Neither of us will get off scot-free if they find out our secret. Could I trouble you to explain the situation to me? I do not have spare heads should this fall through."
Yang Lianhua was one of the people in the shadows when Ming Feizhen was questioning one of the cavalry he captured. Yang Lianhua always spoke with a hint of a smile and added jabs every time he spoke at the meeting, indicating his displeasure for what transpired earlier in the day.
Secretary Kong laughed along: "This old one did not wish for that to happen. Due to rec-"
"Master, I have a matter to report," interrupted a guard.
Yang Lianhua raised a hand to stop Secretary Kong from continuing. He said to the guard, "Come in."
The guard entered and saluted Yang Lianhua exclusively. He gave a brief overview of what Huang Shulang reported to him.
Secretary Kong didn't take offence, for he was aware what Yang Lianhua's hobby was. For all he knew, some of the guards Yang Lianhua brought along could've been his concubines. There was no sound reason for him to gripe over Yang Lianhua's "concubines", as it didn't have anything to do with their work. However, the report did startle him.
Yang Lianhua looked hostile after hearing the report: "I, personally, killed Lu Xiazou. He's bold enough to investigate it? Is he still nearby?"
The guard: "Yes. I can catch up."
Yang Lianhua snickered. Before he could give the command to assassinate the target, Secretary Kong interjected: "You cannot do that. Take your time, Lord Yang."
Curious, Yang Lianhua asked, "What, you know him?"
Secretary Kong nodded: "Indeed. He is from Liu Shan Men?"
"Liu Shan Men? You mean one of the three law enforcement offices alongside the Qilin Guards and the Emperor's entourage?" asked Yang Lianhua, not too learned on the topic, since he dwelled beyond the Central Plain for years.
"Precisely," answered Secretary Kong, stroking his beard. "This old one moved the schedule ahead for that exact reason. After Lu Xiazou's issue came to light, the theft in the imperial palace was then brought to light. His Majesty has been making moves recently, including having three constables from their office dig into the case. My guess is he has found clues from Feiyun Hall, the imperial palace and Lu Xiazou. I sent out forces without consulting you first today to try and eliminate the two investigating the theft. I never expected them to be so skilled."
"Great. The three offices all have their eyes on me. And here you are calmly telling me to strike in two days' time," thundered Yang Lianhua, twerking his hips and slamming the table, leaving his hand print in the table. Surprisingly, he didn't spill a drip of tea cups filled to the brim, which was a testament to his skill. He carried on: "So you decide to take action while disregarding the lives of the restaurant team?!"
"Minister Yang, you are wrongly accusing me," replied Secretary Kong, calm. He picked up a cup of tea and cackled: "Please deliberate the matter meticulously. This old one has always been with your Evil Spirits' group. Not to mention we share the glory and mishaps. If you fail, you could sell this old one out. Why would this old one do something so nonsensical?"
Yang Lianhua smiled wrathfully: "Why can't I kill him, then? You were not so hesitant when you asked us to eliminate Lu Xiazou."
"It is embarrassing to admit, but he is now the student of Zhang Chunfeng, leader of the Ministry of Personnel. He may be honest and frank, but he is exceptionally astute. If we kill Tang Ye, he may be able to pick up clues. With the grand scheme about to go ahead, this old one does not want to create unnecessary trouble."
"To put it simply, your Emperor suspects us," remarked Yang Lianhua, gaze akin to a female's. "That being the case, would our risk not be higher if we strike in two days' time? Secretary Kong, you are not setting us up, are you?"
"Caution and finding incriminating evidence are not mutual. No matter how perceptive and insightful His Majesty may be, he cannot personally investigate the case. Moreover, everyone is at Feiyun Hall. You may be the manager there; however, it operates under Lu Shangfei's name. Thus, should any mishap occur, the Lu brothers will take the fall," explained Secretary Kong, with a smile. "Additionally, this old one is a mere scholar. Your master is a renowned adept - not to mention we are in Jiangnan. How would this old one possibly dare to harm his beloved subordinates?"
They say every tactic except brown nosing can fail. Secretary Kong stroked Yang Lianhua's ego exactly the way the latter preferred. Though Yang Lianhua was a young adept in the service of his master, he was inferior to many others. He gained his status through schemes and relying on his master's backing.
"My, I have to work hard for you now after such praise, don't I?" sarcastically asked Yang Lianhua, finger on his lips and giggling in a tone that raised Secretary Kong's hairs. "In that case, I shall call for Feiyun Hall's adepts tomorrow to assist you. Speaking of which…"
Yang Lianhua squinted with a smile: "We stole the treasures from the imperial palace for you. Lu Xiazou paved your way for you with bribes; I killed him for you. I also have to command the dozens of adepts at Feiyun Hall for you."
It was obvious Yang Lianhua was trying to ask for money. Secretary Kong silently cursed the freak the entire time.
"That is why this old one is giving all of Feiyun Hall's income to you. The fighters are under your management; having said that, this old one had to put in many stops to allow the betting and fights to run so smoothly. If people were to find out about you feeding your fighters five stones powder, nobody would get off. This old one is giving you all of the income despite his contribution. Is that not enough sincerity for you?"
"What harsh words, Secretary Kong," said Yang Lianhua, pinching his eyebrows together and stroking his chest. "Five stones powder is a forbidden drug worth gold and silver. Do you know how much we had to feed those packs of wolves? You cannot let them feast on me, agreed?"
Secretary Kong was irate with what he heard. Yes, five stones powder was expensive. But nonetheless, they had a pharmacist; there was no need to ask for outside help. He found Yang Lianhua's tone much more spiteful than him asking for money. He replied, "Yes, yes, once this is over, this old one will prepare a thank you gift. Fret not."
"Do not forget you made the promise, Secretary Kong. I will be waiting for it. Do not think of spending money as pain. Bear in mind that, as long as my master is on your side, there is no such thing as a difficult problem," said Yang Lianhua, smiling vilely. "That includes assassinating the Ministry of Military and the Ministry of Work's department heads."
The two laughed, each harbouring their own schemes.