Mister Zhong might not be the sharpest tool in the box but he still understood that these three men were planning something that involved his son. He couldn’t let that happen!
He stepped in front of Shao Hai and Jing Yi to hide them from the three men while still trying to follow the golden rule of being courteous. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are saying, dear customer. What horses are you talking about?”
The women in the teahouse started gossiping at once. Fortunately, they had a good opinion of the Zhongs.
“That Li Bo again! My husband told me about him. He’s ripping off everyone in the capital just claiming whatever he wants.”
“Well, what can you do? He has a powerful backer. Even my uncle doesn’t dare to cross him!”
“Indeed, indeed. And his whole family is like that. Doesn’t he have two children? They’re even worse. Not caring for anyone. Li Bo gives at least some face to high ranking officials.”
“Some face that is! Have you heard what he did last week?”
“No. What happened?”
The women lowered their voices to discuss the latest developments to make sure Li Bo wouldn’t hear them. They couldn’t inconvenience their families.
But Mister Zhong had heard enough. So this was one of the hidden tigers Mister Pi had talked about! He examined Li Bo but couldn’t find anything that seemed like a tiger. The man rather had the appearance of a fat pet cat pretending to be a predator. But maybe that backer of his was the real hidden tiger and Li Bo was something like a tiger cub.
Mister Zhong wasn’t completely wrong. Li Bo’s backer was indeed someone that had to be taken seriously. Rather than a tiger, he was a dragon though and not even a hidden one: In fact, the person was none other than the incumbent emperor.
His connection with Li Bo was complicated. Summarizing it in one or two words was impossible. Summoning it up in one sentence might be possible even though it wouldn’t be easily understood then. If one wanted to have a go, it might sound like this: The incumbent emperor was the elder brother of the husband of the sister-in-law of the cousin of Li Bo’s second wife Pei Chang.
If one wanted to go into greater detail, then one needed to start with the emperor. Everyone in the Long kingdom’s capital knew that he had five brothers. He hated one of them to the bones. With two of them, he had a rather lukewarm relationship and there was one brother that he liked. The last one was his favorite brother. This was also the person that connected him with Li Bo.
This favorite brother of the emperor had two wives and five concubines. The third concubine was a woman named Hu Ai who managed to monopolize her husband’s heart even though she wasn’t the prettiest. This Hu Ai was the younger sister of a woman named Hu Chang who had married a man called Pei Wu. And this Pei Wu was coincidentally the cousin of Li Bo’s second wife, Pei Chang.
Saying it like this might not sound so impressive. But one could say that Li Bo had indeed a connection to the emperor and that was enough in the capital. Who knew how close Li Bo’s second wife was to her cousin and how the said cousin doted on his wife? And what if that woman’s sister was so grateful to her for whatever she helped her with previously that she would fulfill every one of her wishes? That the emperor’s brother would do everything for that beloved concubine didn’t even need to be said. And of course, it was an easy feat for the emperor to grant his favorite brother a wish as long as he asked for it.
Since that was the case, nobody dared to cross Li Bo. And most people didn’t know how close the connection between the emperor and Li Bo really was so they wanted to be cautious.
Mister Zhong didn’t know any of that. He could only repeat what he had said before. “I don’t know anything about any horses.”
“He still dares to lie!” Xiao Nuo sneered. “Xiao Guo, we better inform the justice court now!”
“Yes, yes, better inform them now!”
Li Bo continued with his patronizing smile. “Please, please, how can you be so hasty? Let’s just talk this over. I saw that you urgently need these horses for your teahouse so I’ll consider to give them to you and forget about this whole incident. Of course, I’m a poor man and can’t live off nothing. So you should give me something in return.”
Mister Zhong frowned. This didn’t sound bad to him but how could he decide this on his own? “This is my cousin’s teahouse. How about you speak to him?”
Xiao Nuo piped up in lieu of his Master. “What does this have to do with your cousin, huh? I only see you here! Are you trying to get more time so you can flee with the horses? We’re not that easy to trick!”
“I don’t —”
“We’d better go to the justice court right now!” Xiao Guo grinned and crossed his arms.
Li Bo waved his arms as if to pacify them. In front of people who knew them, this seemed like a comedic act. How long had they practiced this? “Don’t be hasty, don’t be hasty. You look like such a good and morally upright person. You wouldn’t want to be convicted for being a thief, would you? Think about your family! If you were imprisoned or exiled or even killed … What would become of them? Wouldn’t it be better to settle this without involving the justice court?”
“But I don’t know of any horses.”
“You’re still saying that!”
“Don’t you play dumb with us!”
Even Li Bo had trouble to cope with Mister Zhong’s approach of not relenting. Normally, people caved in as soon as they heard his name or at the very least when they saw him. Shouldn’t this guy know that it was futile to go against him?
“I really don’t —”
The servants had enough this time. The first one stepped forward and grabbed Mister Zhong by the shoulders while the second followed and punched him. The women in the teahouse shrieked, some of them withdrew to the back of the room while some leaped to their feet and hurried outside. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with this.
Madam Zhong finally noticed the commotion and came out of the kitchen. The tray in her hands dropped to the floor and she hurried forward. She grabbed her son and Shao Hai and pushed them further away from the people who had come to make trouble. Then she turned and glared at the two servants. “Let go of my husband!”
The two men eyed her but didn’t even think of letting Mister Zhong go. That guy still wanted to play dumb with them! Of course, they wouldn’t let him get away with it this easily.
Xiao Guo snorted and kicked Mister Zhong’s chest. The other servant hadn’t paid attention and let go. Mister Zhong tumbled to the ground and stayed motionless.