The weather in Wuhan City was so hot and stuffy in July, that it seemed as if even the sun was going to melt! Even at nine in the morning, the air was sweltering and sticky.
Hanzheng Street was well-known for its long-standing reputation amongst those residing in or visiting Wuhan City.
It had been a popular gathering spot for merchants since ancient times. From morning onwards, the street would be crowded with all sorts of operators, wholesalers and second-hand traders, and customers coming in to collect their purchases. People from all over travelled here to buy and sell goods, making Hanzheng Street a noisy street that was bustling with activity.
However, at the moment, three men were entering the street with no intentions to buy or sell. The leader, a man in his 20s, was wearing a black shirt and black leather pants. He had a black pair of sunglasses over his handsome face, framed by shoulder-length hair which had a few intermittent grey stands.
He swaggered along with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Every few steps he scratched his scalp with his little finger and blew out puff of smoke without paying attention to the people around him. If someone were to run into him and aggravate him, he could only blame himself since ‘gangster’ was practically written all over the man.
The thugs on Hanzheng Street were an unruly bunch. The other two men followed behind him, they were strong and burly men, sporting buzzcuts and black tank tops that showed off their muscles. The sight of them was enough to make the cowardly merchants tremble in fear.
The three men walked down the street and stopped at a shop’s door that was decorated with firecrackers.
Dragon & Tiger Noodle Shop was having a grand opening.
The leading gangster looked up at the storefront for a moment, holding his sunglasses with his hand. He yawned, pushed the glass door, and entered.
The decorations in the noodle shop were quite simple. It had white walls, a white ceiling, and the few pots of orchids showed that the owner spent a reasonable amount on decoration. There were even a few mahogany sofas in the lobby of the shop that seemed quite expensive. It was still early, but the air conditioner had been on for some time, making the noodle shop feel cool and comfortable.
The leading gangster nodded silently. By his judgement, there was a high possibility that the shop owner wasn’t short on money, so it was likely that it would not be too hard to get protection money from the owner. He was usually a good judge of such things.
The atmosphere of the noodle shop wasn’t bad, but there was were no dining tables or chairs.
“Won’t they have to stand and eat?” One of the strong followers mumbled, making a young woman walking through the room giggle.
The young woman seemed like a nice and polite girl with a pair of bright shining eyes, white teeth, and rosy lips. She was charming and beautiful, especially when she was smiling.
The leading gangster was shocked when he saw her beauty, turning back to his followers he shouted, “Fuck! Why don’t you read more books and learn more in your daily life? You two know nothing; I feel so ashamed! This is not a noodle shop; it’s a fucking fortune-telling house! Remember that you should be more knowledgeable if you want to get any standing in society!’
[TN: Long Hu Xiang mian guan, if read it like Long Hu Xiang \ mian guan (龙虎相 – 面馆), then it is Long Hu Xiang Noodles Shop, if read it like Long Hu \ Xiang mian guan (龙虎 – 相面馆), then it is a fortune-telling house.]
After scolding his followers, the leading gangster turned back to the young woman, grinned and introduced himself, “I am Ye Kong. The nearby merchants show some respect to me and call me, Brother Kong. May I know your name?”
Ye Kong looked polite and gentle, but his rude scolding of his two followers hadn’t impressed the young woman very much.
Seeing the cigarette ash falling on her shop floor while he spoke, she suddenly frowned and said, “Uncle, please don’t stand in here and smoke!’
Who is Ye Kong? He is a gangster and the biggest thug on Hanzheng street. Usually, other merchants gave face and deferred to him, but hearing this young woman’s words, Ye Kong felt unhappy, especially when he was called ‘uncle.’
‘How cruel! I am only 24 years old, and I don’t have a girlfriend!’
Ye Kong glanced at the young woman and retorted angrily, “No smoking while standing? Then should I bring a bed and lay down for a smoke?”
It was really hard to get along with such an ill-tempered thug. However, the young woman was just as arrogant and ill-tempered. She was not going to answer his question and continued glaring at Ye Kong silently.
They were staring at each other, and neither would give way to the other.
After ten seconds, it was almost like Ye Kong felt a twinge of guilt in his conscience, he raised his hand and said, “Well alright, you win. I quit. I quit smoking from today onwards. Why you ask? Nowadays there isn’t anywhere to smoke!”
‘This man is not too bad. At least, he had the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, despite his troublesome personality. ‘
The young woman suppressed a smile and suddenly felt slightly less hostile towards him. After Ye Kong walked outside to throw out his cigarette, the young woman said, “My surname is Zhao. I am the boss here. Uncles, did you come for a fortune-telling about your prospects of wealth or social standing?”
Usually, the older the fortune-tellers were, the more business they would receive. Fortune-tellers were better off with gray hair, long beards, and the appearance of a wise sage. Some fortune-tellers pretended to be blind and some wore sunglasses. However, she was a beautiful young woman. He wasn’t sure if she was a fraud or a real fortune-teller.
But Ye Kong did not care, “Boss Zhao, I never trust superstition, and I won’t let others tell me about my own life, so your lies cannot fool me!”
What fortune-tellers hate most was encountering someone who didn’t trust them, and the second was someone who called them a liar. Ye Kong’s words had offended the young woman.
“So, what are you looking for here? If I can do nothing for you, then I don’t want to waste your time!”
She pointed towards the door.
Ye Kong stood still and smiled, “Boss Zhao, we are from the Hanzheng group. We feel your shop is not very safe, so we are here to protect you and your shop!
The young woman didn’t understand, “Thank you, but our shop is small, and our business is small too. We don’t need your protection. Moreover, there is no space for security guards.”
Ye Kong continued, “You are not right, Boss Zhao. It is inevitable that there will be some hooligans, thugs, or thieves in the future, or even people who refuse to pay for a fortune, so you’d better have security here just in case. As for there not being enough room for me to stand, don’t worry about it. If there is no danger, we won’t show our faces.”
The young woman sneered, “Hehe, thugs? You are the thugs! If you aren’t here when there is no danger, how will you be here when there is? You want us to pay for nothing?”
A handsome man walked out from inside the back room. The man was young and elegant. There was an ancient, blue book in his hand.
“They came here to ask for protection money!” he said.
The young man closed the book and held it behind his back as he walked towards the young woman.
He stopped beside her.
“Ah? Are there really people who take protection money?” The young woman seemed blind to the world. Shocked, she called the man ‘senior brother’ and asked him to deal with the thugs.
Hearing this, Ye Kong thought, ‘Damn! A handsome senior brother and a beautiful junior sister, they are probably childhood sweethearts with deep affection. It would be impossible for me to have a chance with her, wouldn’t it? Oh, well. Business is business!’
Ye Kong spoke clearly, “This friend is right. The merchants doing business here in Hanzheng Street are all protected by us, the Hanzheng group. “
The young man asked, “How much should we pay each month? We are just starting a small business…”
However, the junior sister became unhappy, she thought her senior brother would beat the thugs and kick them out. Who knew he would try to bargain for a lower protection fee?
“Senior Brother, how can you submit to these thugs? Are you afraid of them?” Miss Zhao asked.
Ye Kong sneered, trembling with anger, “Boss Zhao, these are the rules on Hanzheng street. You will find out that none of the merchants can escape paying their protection money! You are lucky because you are in my territory, I don’t charge much. You’ll only pay 3% per month! The merchants at the top of the street are under Sha Qiang pay much more than this!”
In fact, the two of them were direct disciples of the sect master of Dragon & Tiger Mountain. They were there to improve their skills through practice. Nowadays, Taoists and Buddhists were extraordinarily wealthy, especially those from famous mountains and temples. Money, incense and other contributions were constantly donated to them all the time, and the wealth just continued to grow. This tiny amount of protection money would be insignificant to them.
The senior brother was not scared of these thugs, but he knew that it wouldn’t be too hard to get along with them. However, the junior sister was young, arrogant, and naïve.
“No, we cannot submit to these thugs! I am going to call the police!” the young woman said angrily.
Ye Kong smirked, “Call the police? Do it! Have we smashed your shop or robbed you? We are coming here to do business with you, how can the police stop us?”
Ye Kong and his two followers laughed out loudly.
The young woman was so angry that she flushed red, but she chose not to call the police.
Ye Kong turned his head back, “Da dai*, Er dai*, from now on, you two have to come here every day to study and learn more traditional culture! It will be easier to find a girlfriend if you are more knowledgeable! And do remember that you should come here every day no matter rain nor sun. Be here before the shop opens and don’t leave until it closes. Moreover, if there are guests here, you should make sure to ask to learn directly from them!”
[TN: the followers’ names sound like ‘fool’]
Instead of protecting, they would be learning skills and culture from them, Ye Kong threatened that the two burly thugs would come and pester customers every day! Even a fool could get his meaning! If the two ‘foolish’ followers came every day, no one, not even the person who charged for electricity would want to come into the shop!
Although the young woman did not want to submit to these thugs, she knew they were very troublesome. With her senior brother’s persuasion, she sighed, “Why can we not just run a successful and happy business?”
Ye Kong recognized that he would be able to charge protection money with little difficulty and continued to say, “Miss, do you understand the words ‘Successful’ and ‘Happy?’ You know, if you wanna run a happy business, you should run a business successfully. But how do you make a business successful? Money! So if you want to have a successful and happy business, you should spend some money! You need to spend money to make money!
Nothing was crazier than a thug trying to act educated! The two childhood sweethearts were shocked at Ye Kong’s words! They thought he was just a rude and unruly hooligan. How could he suddenly be so eloquent?
And, the two followers behind nodded with admiration while agreeing with Ye Kong!
“Wow! Brother Kong! That’s so amazing! See, you have to spend money to make money! How reasonable! Why didn’t I think of it like that?”
“You’re such a fool! Brother Kong is educated! Brother Kong just said that we should be more knowledgeable if we want to get a footing in society, don’t you remember?”
‘No wonder our sect master admires Brother Kong too!’
Ye Kong started speaking again while his followers praised him, thinking they should pay attention as to not miss any wise words.
“I opened a shop before and did not want to pay protection money either. I felt that it was so hard for me to make money, how could they take my hard-earned money? But soon, something happened. One day I had just entered a toilet when I had a bag thrown over my head and was attacked,” Ye Kong seemed sad as he recalled it and shook his head lightly. “Thinking about it, just several hundred RMB could have spared me of the anxiety I now have when I need to go to the toilet.”
The two followers fell speechless, “Brother Kong! We admired you for being educated, but now you even gave such a perfect example!”
Hearing this, Miss Zhao smiled. Ye Kong felt like he had won when he saw her smile.
‘Miss Zhao seems to be willing to pay now!’
Suddenly, she stopped smiling and raised her hand, “Now, I understand! If I want to get along well with you, then I have to beat you to make you feel convinced first!”
The young woman aimed for Ye Kong’s chest, but Ye Kong thought her arms were so slim like chives that the blow wouldn’t do much more than tickle him, so he didn’t move.
The senior brother knew his junior sister had strong internal power, and cried in a hurry, “Junior Sister, stop!’
But it was too late! Actions were faster than words! Her palm neared Ye Kong’s chest quickly, as the senior brother rushed forward to block the attack with the book.
It had just been a palm strike, but something strange happened when her palm struck him! Ye Kong, a lively person, vanished without a trace!
The two followers blinked and looked at Miss Zhao in terror. They cried for mercy and ran away.
The senior brother and junior sister stood in amazement! After a while, the young woman took her hand back and stared at her palm in confusion, “Senior brother, I just wanted to teach him a lesson, I did not use too much internal power! Even if I used all my strength to beat him, I still could not make him disappear!”
“I have no idea what happened,” the senior brother stared at her with eyes wide open. Confused and shocked, “I have never seen or heard of the Dragon and Tiger style causing someone disappear!”
The young woman was upset and filled with regret, “Why? Why can’t he withstand such a light attack? Is he okay?”
The senior brother comforted her, “It’s okay. Don’t worry. He is just a thug. Just think of it as getting rid of an evil for the people!” Suddenly he noticed that there was no longer a book in his hand.
“Oh no! That book was an ancient treasure of our Dragon & Tiger Mountain.
“What a shame!” Miss Zhao said sarcastically, “It was just a useless book! Almost 99.9% of the content inside is useless! Just let it go!”
“Mmm, still a pity! How do we explain it to our master?”
When it came to pity, the person who deserved it most was Ye Kong as he fell down towards an abyss of thick, gray clouds. He saw nothing around him.
Ye Kong didn’t know where he was, where he came from, or where he was going and felt like he was being pulled downwards by a strong and mysterious power, like a leaf in a hurricane or a blade of grass in a whirlpool.
The force was so strong that he felt like he was under a constant grinding pressure! He wanted to keep a clear head but it was too difficult.
Time continued to pass as he continued to fall into the abyss!
“I hurt some people, but I also helped some people. Oh, and about the protection fees… I hope when I wake, I will be in heaven!”
Many years later, his clothes were destroyed by the abyss.
After many more years, his body had been completely destroyed.
In the end, everything about Ye Kong was gone but his soul and a book floating beside him. Eventually, even the book was destroyed, leaving only a beam of golden light which protected Ye Kong’s soul as it reached the bottom of the abyss and passed through the clouds.
No one knew where the abyss led or what was on the other side.