TIGR Chapter 28
The Imperial Guard’s Revenge
Chapter 28 Corruption
The winter night was cold and solemn. The cold wind was howling, bringing an endless curtain of the night until the crushing darkness was palpitating. In the deep darkness, a woman carried a lamp and opened a curtain, disturbing the frost on the ground, and the darkness receded from her feet like a tide.
The world was dark, but there was warmth and light around her. When she saw Lu Heng, her eyes naturally smiled, and she said softly: “Second Brother, you are back.”
Lu Heng’s heart seemed to melt for a moment in the cold night, and a smile appeared on his face: “Why did you come out without clothes on? It’s cold outside, go back quickly.”
Wang Yanqing was afraid that she would be too late, so she came out without a cloak, wearing only her homely clothes. Wang Yanqing said: “It’s only two steps, I will be fine.”
Lu Heng took her by the shoulders, forcibly turned her around, and pushed her back into the house: “Even two steps are not acceptable, many diseases are accumulated little by little like this.”
When Lu Heng and Wang Yanqing returned to the house, he glanced at the dining room and asked: “You haven’t eaten yet?”
Wang Yanqing gave the lantern to the maid, and came forward to help Lu Heng untie his cloak: “I ate a few snacks in the afternoon before going to bed, but I lost my appetite when I woke up.”
Lu Heng’s cloak was large and heavy, and Wang Yanqing had to hold it tightly to prevent the cloak from falling to the ground. She patted off the broken snow on the collar and folded the hem carefully, Lu Heng saw Wang Yanqing’s movements and said: “You don’t need to fold it, just leave it to the maid.”
Wang Yanqing shook her head. She continued to fold the cloak in half and place it neatly on the maid’s tray. The two of them sat down at the large table. The maid served the food quietly and removed the food boxes. Wang Yanqing lifted the teapot and scalded the cup with water. Then she poured a cup of hot tea and put it in front of Lu Heng and asked: “Second Brother, is Liang Rong’s case going well?”
Lu Heng held the tea cup in his hand and said slowly: “It’s going smoothly, and it has been sent to Commander Chen Du for review. If the commander has no opinion, the case will be settled.”
Commander Chen Du that Lu Heng spoke of was Chen Yin, an old minister who followed from the Xing Monarch’s Palace. He was the highest person in charge of the Imperial Guards, the head official of the Imperial Guards. Wang Yanqing glanced at Lu Heng quietly, and asked in a low voice: “Second Brother, after all, this is a case that Master Chen once finalized. We reinvestigated it privately, is it really okay?”
Lu Heng smiled and casually turned his tea cup: “Those who can investigate should be doing so. This is indeed a wrongful conviction, why shouldn’t it be redressed? Don’t worry, I’ve thought of these matters.”
Seeing this, Wang Yanqing stopped talking. She found that although Second Brother laughed often, he was far more terrifying than those stern and sinister men. He did not hide his ambitions and methods at all. He was sharp-edged and ready to move. At the age of twenty-two, he dared to openly challenge his superiors and predecessors.
For such a person, Wang Yanqing didn’t know whether to admire him for being bold and careful or to worry that he would be too easy to break.
Lu Heng drank a cup of tea, and his body was almost warm before he started to move his chopsticks. This meal was arranged according to Wang Yanqing’s taste. She took two bites of the dishes and found that Lu Heng’s dishes were taken in equal proportions, and each dish was mixed the same number of times. She made a soft sound of surprise and asked: “Second Brother, do you not like these?”
“No.” Lu Heng vetoed and asked back, “Why do you ask that?”
“I’ve seen you pick at the dishes the same number of times. It seems to have been calculated deliberately, and thought you didn’t like it.” Wang Yanqing sat upright and said seriously, “I was negligent and forgot to ask Second Brother what he liked.”
Lu Heng shook his head and said with a smile: “Don’t worry about me, I’m not doing any mental arithmetic. I’m just used to it.”
Wang Yanqing tilted her head slightly, feeling very strange: “Is it still possible to get used to this?”
“When I was young, my father taught me to play chess to sharpen my temper, and gradually I became accustomed to paying attention to the numbers around me. In fact, it makes no difference, you don’t have to care.”
Not to mention, you could tell people like Lu Heng were very good at math at first glance. Wang Yanqing asked curiously: “If the Second Brother is naturally sensitive to numbers, wouldn’t you be very good at playing Leaf Cards?
|| Leaf Cards (叶子牌) is an ancient Chinese game with very similar gameplay and algorithms to Mahjong. The cards used in the game are long strips of paper.”
Lu Heng listened with a smile and nodded slowly: “That is also a coincidence. But I rarely play.”
Wang Yanqing could fully understand. If Lu Heng was really attentive, he must have been very good at counting cards, and no one could beat him. Over time, naturally, no one wanted to play with him. Wang Yanqing said: “Leaf Cards is nothing but a leisure time pastime. Second Brother has more important things to do, so naturally, he won’t waste time on these things.”
As she spoke, Wang Yanqing gave Lu Heng a bowl of soup, and Lu Heng took it with a half-smiling look: “In front of me, there is no need to say such flattering words.”
“What flattery, it is obviously the truth.” After Wang Yanqing finished speaking, her face slightly straightened and she asked: “I haven’t asked Second Brother what he likes to eat. I will let the kitchen arrange the meals in the future so that I can know the proportions.”
She still persisted in trying to cater to Lu Heng’s taste. Lu Heng thought about it and said: “I don’t have any preferences, you can arrange it as you like. If I have to say, I prefer lighter-flavored meals.”
Wang Yanqing nodded and wrote it down silently: “That’s right, Second Brother is from Anlu, so naturally he likes light food.”
“That’s not the reason.” Lu Heng took a sip of the soup and said slowly, “It is because dishes with a light flavor are not easy to be poisoned.”
Hearing this ultimate conclusion, Wang Yanqing looked at Lu Heng rebukingly: “Second Brother, you must be joking again.”
Lu Heng smiled at her but did not refute. Wang Yanqing looked at Lu Heng’s expression, and the smile on her mouth faded a little bit.
She realized that Lu Heng was telling the truth. Wang Yanqing knew that Lu Heng was suspicious, but couldn’t he even rest assured in his own home?
Wang Yanqing did not continue the topic and ate quietly for the rest of the meal. The two of them put down their plates and chopsticks one after the other. Lu Heng waited for Wang Yanqing to wash her hands in the basin and dry them with a handkerchief before getting up and walking to the edge of the room: “Qing Qing, come with me, I have something I want to show you.”
Wang Yanqing responded and quickly followed behind Lu Heng. The two of them took their seats on the Arhat bed. Without any instructions, the servants in the room removed the cups from the long table. They came in to turn on the lights and quietly retreated after paying their respect. On the way out, they spontaneously closed the doors and windows. Seeing this burst of action, Wang Yanqing also felt a swell in her heart: “Second Brother, is this a confidential thing?”
“No.” Lu Heng said, “It’s just some information. These are the biographies of government officials suspected of corruption. This Zhao Huai is the leader. Come and take a look.”
Wang Yanqing took the booklet handed over by Lu Heng. These booklets were temporarily bound, each written about one person, and “Zhao Huai” was written on the thickest title page. Wang Yanqing first picked up Zhao Huai’s and looked at it. She flipped through it for a while, and asked: “Why is he corrupt?”
Wang Yanqing lost her memory, and her knowledge of the officialdom was completely blank. Even so, she could see that Master Zhao was rising to the top and had a career that was of the most favorable. If it took time to enter the court then he also had that in the bag. Why would such a proud and promising person in the officialdom be involved in bribery?
Lu Heng said casually: “People die for wealth, birds die for food, and if the knife does not fall on their heads, everyone feels that they can be spared. The palace eunuchs, Zhang Yong and Xiao Jing of the Zhengde Dynasty, secretly gave gifts to ministers in confidential court positions for personal gain, so that they could open the door of convenience. Zhao Huai was one of the key officials who were bribed.”
Wang Yanqing nodded slowly, so it was. She asked: “What is the approximate amount?”
Lu Heng stretched out his finger, Wang Yanqing saw it and asked tentatively, “Five thousand taels?”
|| Taels (两) refer to the measurement of coins in the Chinese system of weights and currency.
Lu Heng smiled slightly: “It is indeed five thousand taels, but it is in gold.”
Wang Yanqing gasped: “So much?”
Lu Heng didn’t agree. Zhao Huai was just an appetizer at best, the real plump sheep hadn’t been served yet. Wang Yanqing looked through the booklet in her hand again and instantly felt that the paper was heavy.
After Wang Yanqing understood the nature of the case, she carefully studied Zhao Huai’s life from the beginning. She read page by page and asked: “If there is so much gold, then there will be no shortage of other silver and jewelry. These things take up a lot of space, I’m afraid they are not easy to hide.”
Lu Heng nodded slightly, with an unclear meaning on his face. This is exactly what was troubling them. The Imperial Guards supervise hundreds of officials, and there were spies everywhere. They knew the family background of the ministers in the court and even knew what was going on in their beds. The emperor had always known that the people below were greedy. Of those currently serving as officials, which one was not corrupt? The Imperial Guards were the emperor’s eyes and sword. When there was peace, safety, and nothing to do, they held the handle to information of the hundred officials for the emperor. However, as soon as people were blocking his way, he would sweep them off the chessboard.
Zhao Huai was an outdated chess piece, but Zhang Yong’s gift was sent very secretly. The Imperial Guards knew the amount but didn’t know where Zhao Huai hid the money.
Corruption was the same as catching adultery. If you didn’t catch the righteous master on the bed, then it was not a mistake. Lu Heng was not afraid of offending people, but he had to master the location of the stolen money before he could make an attack, otherwise, once it was out of the bag, he would be dealt with.
Especially now that he was still on the cusp. Chen Yin, Fu Tingzhou, and Yang Yingning were all watching him.
Lu Heng sighed softly and said: “That’s right. Corrupt officials hide money, but there have been only a few methods through the ages: covered walls, pocket walls, and secret cellars. However, when I sent a secret group into Zhao Huai’s house to look, no gold and silver were found in the bedroom, study, or garden, and no pockets were found in the walls. People who went to Zhao Huai’s hometown came back and found nothing.”
If the money was not in his own home and had not been transported back to his hometown, where else could it be? Wang Yanqing fell into deep thought. Lu Heng waited for a while and said slowly: “There are two possibilities now. First, there are other secret rooms or cellars in Zhao Huai’s house, which we don’t know about yet. Second, he hid the money outside, and when we looked for it around him, we naturally couldn’t find it.”
Wang Yanqing looked at the booklet in her hand, and slowly shook her head: “I don’t think it is outside. It should be by his side, at least a place he can often see.”
“Oh?” Without any movement, Lu Heng asked, “Why does Qing Qing say this?”
“Looking at his childhood experience, I guessed it.” Wang Yanqing pointed Lu Heng to a page that recorded Zhao Huai’s family, and said, “He was young when he lost his father, and he was raised by his mother. On top of that, he had two older sisters. Although he had to support his family when he was studying, he still relied on his mother and sister to weave cloth for his daily livelihood. People who grow up in this environment tend to be weak and tend to become dependent on their female elders. Even if a smooth career in adulthood made up for his self-confidence, he would never become a bold, decisive, and risk-taking person. People like him seem to be hard but are soft and cowardly, with a lack of experience around money in childhood. He will not rest assured if the money is hidden outside. He will definitely keep it by his side, preferably a place that he can reach at all times.”
Lu Heng didn’t speak, but there was a smile in his eyes: “Qing Qing didn’t even have to see Zhao Huai. How do you know Zhao Huai’s character?”
“I guessed.” Wang Yanqing took the booklet back and said, “Although people have their own way of thinking, people who grow up in similar environments often have similar characteristics. By looking at a person’s family background, growth environment, and life experience, you can probably guess the person’s personality. I thought according to Zhao Huai’s thinking. Anyway, if I were him, there is no way I would feel at ease entrusting my hard-earned money to another.”
Lu Heng finally laughed, his eyes enveloped Wang Yanqing like a fine net, and he slowly said: “I felt the same way, so I focused on his home, but I couldn’t find it.”
Wang Yanqing closed the book and imagined that she was a young man who had lost his father, was in a poor family, and depended entirely on his clan to support him. A man who is still very good at reading, when he matured, where would he hide his money? She tried to think about it for a while, but her mind was empty, and she felt unable to start. Lu Heng looked at her for a while, and asked casually: “Qing Qing, did you think of anything?”
Wang Yanqing sighed and looked at Lu Heng truthfully: “Second Brother, there is too little information now, I can’t think of anything.”
“No hurry.” Lu Heng squeezed Wang Yanqing’s hand and said, “You haven’t seen Zhao Huai yet. How can you figure it out just by thinking? Here is the map of Zhao Huai’s house, take your time and tell me when you are ready. Then I will take you to see Zhao Huai.”
Wang Yanqing nodded in agreement, she bit her lip after speaking and hesitated. Lu Heng was silent and then asked: “What happened?”
Wang Yanqing raised her head and looked at Lu Heng nervously: “Second Brother if I can’t get any answers after questioning him, I will have delayed your time in vain. What should I do?”
Lu Heng couldn’t help but laugh. He noiselessly grasped the back of her hand and said: “It’s okay. Originally this is my business. Without you, I would also interrogate them. You are here to help me with my matters, you don’t owe me. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Prepare with peace of mind, and don’t worry about the time.”
Wang Yanqing nodded slightly, and seeing that it was getting late, Lu Heng sent her back to her room. Although Lu Heng said that she didn’t need to care about the time, Wang Yanqing still looked over the information all day and night and stared at the map of Zhao Huai’s house for a day.
As Wang Yanqing stepped up her research, Lu Heng also encountered some trouble. The emperor gave him the remaining half month, and now ten days have passed in the blink of an eye. Lu Heng held his breath, and the others came out one by one.
Lu Heng came out of the palace and met Chen Yin at the Zuoshun Gate. When Lu Heng saw the person coming, his expression remained unchanged, and he lowered his eyes slightly to greet Chen Yin: “Commander Chen Du.”
When Chen Yin saw Lu Heng, he smiled and said: “It’s you. I haven’t seen you for a long time, and now it is somewhat strange looking at you. When did you come back from Baoding?”
Lu Heng still smiled, like a humble and respectful junior, answering any question: “Yesterday.”
“I just came back yesterday.” Chen Yin lengthened his words and sighed, staring at Lu Heng, and said: “Why have you gone so long? Leaving Beijing at this juncture, it seems that the corruption case handed over to you by the emperor has already taken shape?”
The emperor had not yet rushed him, but each one of them was impatient. Lu Heng smiled deeper, and the end of his eyes slightly curved, which made his peach blossom eyes more and more sparkling: “Thanks to the trust of the emperor, I should do my utmost by sharing the emperor’s worries.”
The expression in Chen Yin’s eyes became even colder. His courage was not small, unexpectedly, he even dared to provoke him right in front of his face? Chen Yin was different from Lu Heng. Lu Heng maintained an impeccable smile at all times, but when Chen Yin was in a bad mood, the expression on his face naturally became cold. Chen Yin stared at Lu Heng, exerting invisible pressure. Lu Heng also kept his eyes lowered, and seemed to be humble and obey, but there was no fear between his brows.
Chen Yin smiled angrily: “It turned out that I underestimated you. Some dogs not only dare to climb and bite outsiders, but if they are not careful, even their own people have to prevent their hands from being bitten.”
“I don’t dare.” Lu Heng said calmly, “I still have to rely on Commander Chen Du for guidance. If Commander Chen Du is afraid of dogs, he should be careful in the capital. After all, at the foot of the Imperial City, most are wild dogs without masters.”
Chen Yin glared at Lu Heng coldly, turned, and walked into the palace. Lu Heng stopped at the Zuoshun Gate, and when Chen Yin was far enough, he turned around and walked out calmly.
Chen Yin called him a dog, so what? It’s better than being a masterless dog like Chen Yin.
To put it bluntly, the cabinet, the Hanlin Imperial Academy, behind the official desk, who is not a hound in the emperor’s hands? Once someone is disobedient, the emperor only needs to let go of the reins, and some flies will rush up and tear them apart.
There are so many people in the capital who want to be dogs for the nobles. Lu Heng didn’t care about Chen Yin’s threat. As long as he completed the emperor’s task and produced a qualified blade, he wouldn’t care even if he offended many emperors. On the contrary, if his blade was no longer sharp, and the tip of the blade could no longer point precisely in the direction the emperor wanted, that would be the day of a real disaster.
On the night of the fifteenth day of the twelfth month, the prison was as crowded and bloody as ever. The jailer shook his hands and numbly lit the oil lamp on the wall. The dim light quickly swayed on the ground, and the darkness rose and fell like a tide, swaying. In the changing light and shadow, a group of people walked on the dark river. The jailer saw the face of the leader, and immediately stood up and greeted: “Commander Lu.”
When the jailer greeted him, he vaguely glimpsed a man in a cloak standing behind Commander Lu. Judging by his height and size, he didn’t seem like a man. The jailer thought to himself about why the commander would bring a woman to the prison, recently he had not heard of any minister’s family being in distress.
Thoughts flashed in the jailer’s mind, but he didn’t dare to take a closer look. He just glanced and lowered his head, staring at the black and hard blood stains on the corridor. Lu Heng responded lightly and said: “Where is Zhao Huai?”
The jailer became more cautious and said: “As usual, in the cell.”
After the jailer finished speaking, he paused and said tentatively: “Does the commander want to interrogate him, I can immediately bring him up?”
“No need.” Lu Heng walked in front of the darkened prison door, the turbulent wall lamps on both sides sprinkled on him, half-bright and half-sleep, like a charm, “Continue to guard the door, no one is allowed to enter without my warrant.”