Towards the Commander, he was respectably loyal, though he back-talked and slacked off regularly . Towards him, the Com…

Lan Bai-Shan

江苏夜网

Like his name, Chao Hsiao-Hu looked tigerishly simple and upright . With his roundish face, wide eyes, and well-built physique, he would make a good lad anywhere .

Li Shih-Yao claimed to have dug him out of a corpse pile, but this description wasn’t entirely accurate . True, he had been the one doing the digging, but it was under the direct command of Commander Ho who stood ten meters away .

Ever since then, Hsiao-Hu had regarded the Commander as his personal saviour . Towards the Commander, he was respectably loyal, though he back-talked and slacked off regularly . Towards him, the Commander was exceptionally kind, and for the most part just let him be . On the rare occasions when he didn’t, he would hang Hsiao-Hu by the ceiling and flog him up with a horsewhip .

After a couple of whipping sessions soaking in freezing water, Hsiao-Hu learned his lesson . So every now and then when he caught the strange glint in Commander Ho’s gaze, he would reflexively start to run for his life, only daring to return after the sky had turned completely dark .

– : –

To Chao Hsiao-Hu, Commander Ho clearly led a very boring life . He had an entire army under his command, yet he neither led nor fought with it . He merely sat about without any form of entertainment, not a glimpse of women in his courtyard since the start of the century, and practiced the art of debate with his subordinate officers, pleasant for one moment and furious the next, as if it were all—though not nearly as entertaining as—acts in a play .

One night, he carried a basin of hot water to the Commander’s bedroom as usual . Commander Ho sat at the edge of his bed, his long legs stretched out before him on the floor, and appeared to be, once again, in a trance .

Used to this particular look on his master’s face, Hsiao-Hu didn’t comment . He simply placed the basin in front of the bed and bent down to take off the commander’s shoes and socks .

Commander Ho rarely walked . After a life in clover, his feet almost had a delicate tenderness . Washing another man’s feet was by no means a pleasant task, yet Hsiao-Hu had a certain investigative interest in Commander Ho’s . In other words, he’d always wanted to take a bite at them!

Commander Ho’s feet too, were made of fine porcelain, and would shatter at once with a bite .

– : –

After he was done soaking his feet, Commander Ho went to bed . Lying under the white linen and red satin quilt, he started muttering to himself all of a sudden . “Why isn’t he back yet?” he said with a sigh .

Carrying the basin, Hsiao-Hu nudged the door open quietly with his feet and left . He knew that Commander Ho was talking about Lan Bai-Shan .

Lan Bai-Shan, Chief of Staff, was a medium sized man, sharply dressed at all times and wore his uniforms with exceptional elegance . When he smiled his eyes would turn crescent-shaped, and his thin lips knew how to talk, amuse, and coax .

In addition to these talents, Chief Lan also made a close acquaintance with Commander Ho . He had been one of the kidnappers back at the school, and after Ho Ch’i-yeh was stuffed inside the car, it was Lan who held Ch’i-yeh in his arms and carried him all the way from Peking to Tientsin .

Ho Ch’i-yeh might have gotten too comfortable in Lan’s arms . When he got off the car and became Commander Ho, though expressionless, he showed no sign of anger . He even asked Lan rather unnecessarily: “You must be exhausted, carrying me all the way here . “

Lan Bai-Shan wore a smile . “Not at all . I could have held you all the way to Mukden . “

Commander Ho smiled and said nothing more .

– : –

Commander Ho slept well—or at least made it appear so . He never wasted the lamp oil to stay up like a night owl, nor did he get up before the sun shone high in the sky . Since he cared nothing for his appearance, he didn’t waste any time grooming himself—at this point in life, appearance was the last thing that mattered . Nobody was around to appreciate or criticize it anyway, so he simply made himself as comfortable as possible .

After finishing a breakfast of noodle soup, he sat back on his bed and began his contemplations for the day .

“I must get a designation,” he thought to himself . “Even if it means bowing to Fu Yang-Shan! That title is the only way to be considered a regular army and have a future career . Otherwise I’ll be stuck here marauding, and if things continue this way, we’ll become actual bandits . Li Shih-Yao and his ignorant, short-sighted likes see only the benefits at hand, never the larger picture . After all, they came from peasant stock, none of this matter to them . But I’m not like them…I can’t stay in this hellhole and play the local despot forever!”

He had unwittingly knitted his brows . His fingers were gripping the hem of his shirt, his hands clutched into tight fists .

Advertisement

Hsiao-Hu’s sudden yell came through the window . “Commander! Chief Lan’s back!”

Lost in his thoughts, Commander Ho jumped at the abrupt noise .

“What?”

“Chief Lan is back,” Hsiao-Hu repeated himself out of habit . “Just got off the car outside the courtyard . He’s waiting to see you in the front hall . “

Commander Ho stood up and took a few steps forward, but stopped in his tracks .

“Tell him to come in here,” he ordered .

Hsiao-Hu sounded his affirmation and ran out with heavy thuds, leaving Commander Ho in his room to undo his belt in a frantic rush and tuck the bottom of his shirt into his trousers . He did most of the buttons on his army coat—the coat was fairly wrinkled, but fortunately, he’s figure could be decked in anything and still look like an untainted porcelain statue .

He’d wanted to comb his hair as well, but didn’t have the time . A moment later, Lan Bai-Shan had already helped himself in and saluted him in his straightest posture .

“Commander! Bai-Shan reports back!” he declared in a clear voice .

Commander Ho was trying to find his comb at a dresser, his back to Lan . He turned his head and threw him a glance, his face without any visible sign of joy .

“When did you come back?” he inquired flatly .

Lan shut the door behind him and took a few steps forward .

“Just now, and I came straight here,” he said cheerfully .

Commander Ho threw him another glance . Lan Bai-Shan stood erect in his unruffled uniform and appeared to be in high spirits . His eyes were shining with laughter .

Under their influence, Commander Ho decided to say some kind words, though his tone always counteracted his intentions .

“You must be tired from your journey . “

Lan stepped in closer to him . “Not at all . Don’t worry, it’s not like I walked there on foot, nothing to really tire me . How about you? I was worried about leaving you here all by yourself . “

Commander Ho walked to his bed and sat down, his hands tucked into his pockets . He started to say “I’m fine—” before realizing that something wasn’t quite right . He glanced up at Lan and thought to himself, what have you got to worry about? A staff officer worrying about his commander? How odd!

Lan Bai-Shan met his gaze and gave him a calm smile . “Ji-Ch’ing, I’ve gotten you some presents from Hsian . Had them brought back with the trucks and unloaded in the courtyard . I promise you’ll be pleased once you see them . “

Commander Ho stared down at the floor, savouring over the “Ji-Ch’ing” with amusement .

“I’ll trust your taste . “

Lan didn’t answer and dug out an ivory comb from his pocket instead . He steadied the Commander’s shoulder with one hand and with the other, started to comb through his dishevelled hair .

“How can a young man like you treat yourself this way,” he muttered .

Commander Ho let him fiddle with his head . “Haven’t got an audience . “

“Well! What about me?” Lan laughed .

“You?”

“Am I not worthy?”

Commander Ho let out a sudden laugh . “Sure you are, but why would you be looking at me?”

Lan put away his comb and bent down in front of Commander Ho as if he were a child . He looked straight at Commander Ho’s snowy forehead .

“I find you rather good-looking . “

Commander Ho couldn’t find a reply and didn’t feel like discussing the matter any further, so in his panic, he gave a little chuckle and changed the subject .

“How did they respond in Hsian?”

Lan Bai-Shan paced before him with a hand in his pocket . “Fu Yang-Shan still isn’t taking a clear stand . He probably knows we need him, so he plays indecision . But that doesn’t matter . He’s now on terrible terms with Chao Chen-Sheng . Before they openly declare war, all we have to do is go to Chao for a visit and put out some rumours, then he’ll be the one running to us for incorporation . And if we’re lucky…” Lan smiled and sat down beside the Commander . “We might even earn some extra cash . “

A very good idea indeed, but Commander Ho wasn’t smiling .

His mind wasn’t on Fu Yang-Shan . Lan Bai-Shan had a faint trace of perfume on him—where did it come from?

Meanwhile, Lan was still softly prospecting their bright future . Commander Ho forced himself to listen, but the scent was becoming stronger by every second and ascended to a point where it was almost irritating his nose .

Reaching the end of his forbearance, he finally leapt to his feet . He cut Lan off mid-sentence and pointed a finger at the door .

“Get out,” he said through gnashed teeth .

Lan Bai-Shan was enraptured in his animated speech, never suspecting the sudden change in the Commander’s demeanor . He froze for a moment, and rose slowly to his feet .

“Ji-Ch’ing, what’s wrong?”

Commander Ho was indeed a man of few words, but his mind raced . The more he thought about it the odder it seemed, and eventually he almost killed himself with self-inflicted rage . When he looked up at Lan his eyes shone dangerously, which in fact made him look more alive than usual .

“Out!”

Lan wasn’t any dumber than Hsiao-Hu . Once he saw the Commander’s transformation—though he had no idea where the madness came from—he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to antagonize the Commander any further . Thus after a brief moment of hesitation, he turned away awkwardly and left with a crestfallen look .

– : –

After kicking Lan Bai-Shan out, Commander Ho brooded in depression and almost wished he could cough up blood . His hands clasped behind his back, he strolled to the front yard and saw a group of orderlies transporting all sorts of packages to a spare room . Chao Hsiao-Hu was standing in command . He ran up to Commander Ho and flashed a blandish smile .

“Commander, Chief Lan brought these fabrics back from Hsian, and there’re two more bags of foreign sweets and cigarettes . I already had those moved to the inner yard . Do you wish to see them right now?”

Commander Ho let out a deep breath .

“Get your men and go check if Lan Bai-Shan’s brought back a woman,” he ordered with a troubled look .

“Huh?” Hsiao-Hu asked in surprise .

Commander Ho raised his hand and gave him a resounding slap across his face . His expression was almost ferocious .

“‘Huh’ your mother’s fucking cunt!”

That effectively ended Hsiao-Hu’s “huhs” . Rubbing his face, Hsiao-Hu called a couple of his mates and ran out of the courtyard .

– : –

The county-town of Luyang was a small place, so Ho Residence wasn’t very far from anywhere . Hsiao-Hu led his squad to Lan’s front gates and chatted the guards up for a while . It didn’t take very long before he got his answer, but he wasn’t in a hurry to report back . He brought his boys to a small local restaurant and dug leisurely through a plate of stewed beef and fried peanuts, perfectly at ease . Only when he had filled his satiety did he wipe his mouth clean, and started a sprint from the restaurant’s front door . He arrived at the Ho Residence just in time to run short of breath, his face appropriately flushed to convey his fatigue caused by the mission .

“Commander! I’ve got it figured out!”

Commander Ho was still standing in the front yard . He gave him a vicious stare .

“Speak!”

“Chief Lan did bring back a schoolgirl from Hsian . Said she’s only about seventeen, all dressed in Western clothes with leather shoes and bare thighs . And she’s real pretty . “

Commander Ho nodded and looked as if he was about to become red in the face .

“Well, well . Go on!”

Hsiao-Hu blinked . “That was it . “

Commander Ho spun around and began to head inside .

“Tell Adjutant Chang to deliver a message, I’m holding a meeting this afternoon . “

Hsiao-Hu nodded a yes, and rushed off again cheerfully .

– : –

Commander Ho took a very brief nap, got up—this time dressing himself properly—and left the house .

The Anguo Army Headquarters was located at what was once a small school in Luyang . Over ten regimental commanders and a number of staff officers sat scattered in a classroom as they listened to Commander Ho’s lecture in silence .

Commander Ho stood in front of the mass, his downcast eyes looking at no one but glaring angrily at the floor . He first went over the situation in Hsian concerning Fu, then immediately switched the subject .

“The Anguo Army was once known for its excellent reputation back in the Old Marshal’s days, and as his son, it is partly my failure that it’s came to what it is today . But since we are now heading back onto the right track, it is important that from now on, everyone here corrects his body and soul and behave like a soldier, not some bandit! For example, when travelling in the army, one must never bring women! When your soldiers are sleeping alone in their cold beds, how can you officers have the face to seek entertainment with your women? If you continue to lack this sort of self-discipline, we might even lose our morale one day . Without morale, who’s going to fight and die for you? Where are you going to get your money?”

He looked up suddenly and glanced around the room . Without warning, he changed his subject again .

“Where is Jin Hwan-Ran?”

“Still in Wantong,” Li Shih-Yao answered wearily . “He finally managed to find a place to stay . Why would he sacrifice it to come back? He’d rather die there!”

Commander Ho pounded the ramshackle desk . “You scoundrels! Only a few days of peace and you’re all fighting with each other! Go ahead, kill yourselves in battle, and then get wiped out by those Tuoluo Bay Northeasterners, so we can all be finished for good! Damn it, Officer Ma! Go deliver a massage to Jin Hwan-Ran and tell him to come back here this instant! I have something to say to him!”

Officer Ma—Aunt Ma gave his reply immediately and carefully . “Yes sir, I shall go to Wantong tonight . “

Commander Ho pounded the desk again as if something else in him was triggered . His eyes gleamed .

“Just what the hell is this place? There isn’t even a telephone around! You hopelessly unambitious fools, how can you be so content with yourselves in this stinking valley? You lot are fit for nothing but bandits! All in all, I only have two points to make in this meeting: One, no infighting! Two, no women! That’s all, meeting dismissed!”

After that announcement, Commander Ho left the room by himself in rage . The rest of the crowd, however, were in no hurry . Colonel Sun turned around and whispered to Li Shih-Yao . “What was he getting at? Am I the only one thrown off?”

Li laughed as he turned back to look at Lan Bai-Shan . “Chief Lan, you’re on the friendliest terms with the Commander, why don’t you give us an analysis of the Commander’s intentions?”

“Don’t ask me,” Lan smiled . “I’ve no more idea about what’s going on than the rest of you . “

Li Shih-Yao turned to Chief Ma . “What do you think, Auntie?”

Ma was smiling as well . “I don’t know about anything else, but the thing about women was definitely for Chief Lan . “

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Li asked . “Chief Lan, you went to Hsian and brought back some lass?”

Lan Bai-Shan smoothed his well-greased hair and smiled good-temperedly . “I did bring one . “

Colonel Sun gave a clap . “Good for you, Old Lan!”

“Not only that,” Ma added . “It’s a schoolgirl! Is that right?” he turned to Lan .

Lan Bai-Shan simply smiled and remained silent .

Li Shih-Yao started to laugh . “So we’ve found the key to the problem! Our young commander has to sleep with a pillow every night—did you know that? He sleeps holding a pillow—while Chief Lan gets to spend his nights with a schoolgirl . Ha, Ch’i-Baoshaoyehis jealous!”

“Colonel Li, you can’t throw things like that around,” Lan warned immediately . “With Commander Ho’s narrow mind, he’d bite your head off if he ever hears about this . “

Li Shih-Yao gave a defiant snort . “And I should be scared? He’s nothing but Ho Ch’i-Bao . “

Colonel Sun detected that the conversation was heading off the rails and quickly interrupted: “Come on, Old Li! We haven’t even congratulated Chief Lan for winning his schoolgirl yet, why are you going on about the Commander? Schoolgirls are rarities, Old Lan, you must buy us dinner!”

“Dinner?” Lan replied distractedly . “Commander Ho’s still on my case, and you expect me to be in the mood for dinner?”

Li Shih-Yao wanted the whole world to be free of fear for Commander Ho, and frowned disapprovingly at the comment . “Why the hell are you all scared of him? So what if he has a problem with you? You fellows make no sense! Not scared of enemy bullets but afraid of Ho Ch’i-Bao!”

The crowd fell silent .

Li was exasperated at their cowardice . What he didn’t know was that he and these men shared the same concerns . While Commander Ho certainly didn’t bite, it was better not to provoke him if it could be avoided in any way .

Lan Bai-Shan

Like his name, Chao Hsiao-Hu looked tigerishly simple and upright . With his roundish face, wide eyes, and well-built physique, he would make a good lad anywhere

Li Shih-Yao claimed to have dug him out of a corpse pile, but this description wasn’t entirely accurate . True, he had been the one doing the digging, but it was under the direct command of Commander Ho who stood ten meters away

Ever since then, Hsiao-Hu had regarded the Commander as his personal saviour . Towards the Commander, he was respectably loyal, though he back-talked and slacked off regularly . Towards him, the Commander was exceptionally kind, and for the most part just let him be . On the rare occasions when he didn’t, he would hang Hsiao-Hu by the ceiling and flog him up with a horsewhip

After a couple of whipping sessions soaking in freezing water, Hsiao-Hu learned his lesson . So every now and then when he caught the strange glint in Commander Ho’s gaze, he would reflexively start to run for his life, only daring to return after the sky had turned completely dark

– : -.

To Chao Hsiao-Hu, Commander Ho clearly led a very boring life . He had an entire army under his command, yet he neither led nor fought with it . He merely sat about without any form of entertainment, not a glimpse of women in his courtyard since the start of the century, and practiced the art of debate with his subordinate officers, pleasant for one moment and furious the next, as if it were all—though not nearly as entertaining as—acts in a play

One night, he carried a basin of hot water to the Commander’s bedroom as usual . Commander Ho sat at the edge of his bed, his long legs stretched out before him on the floor, and appeared to be, once again, in a trance

Used to this particular look on his master’s face, Hsiao-Hu didn’t comment . He simply placed the basin in front of the bed and bent down to take off the commander’s shoes and socks

Commander Ho rarely walked . After a life in clover, his feet almost had a delicate tenderness . Washing another man’s feet was by no means a pleasant task, yet Hsiao-Hu had a certain investigative interest in Commander Ho’s . In other words, he’d always wanted to take a bite at them!.

Commander Ho’s feet too, were made of fine porcelain, and would shatter at once with a bite

– : -.

After he was done soaking his feet, Commander Ho went to bed . Lying under the white linen and red satin quilt, he started muttering to himself all of a sudden . “Why isn’t he back yet?” he said with a sigh

Carrying the basin, Hsiao-Hu nudged the door open quietly with his feet and left . He knew that Commander Ho was talking about Lan Bai-Shan

Lan Bai-Shan, Chief of Staff, was a medium sized man, sharply dressed at all times and wore his uniforms with exceptional elegance . When he smiled his eyes would turn crescent-shaped, and his thin lips knew how to talk, amuse, and coax

In addition to these talents, Chief Lan also made a close acquaintance with Commander Ho . He had been one of the kidnappers back at the school, and after Ho Ch’i-yeh was stuffed inside the car, it was Lan who held Ch’i-yeh in his arms and carried him all the way from Peking to Tientsin

Ho Ch’i-yeh might have gotten too comfortable in Lan’s arms . When he got off the car and became Commander Ho, though expressionless, he showed no sign of anger . He even asked Lan rather unnecessarily: “You must be exhausted, carrying me all the way here . “.

Lan Bai-Shan wore a smile . “Not at all . I could have held you all the way to Mukden . “.

Commander Ho smiled and said nothing more

– : -.

Commander Ho slept well—or at least made it appear so . He never wasted the lamp oil to stay up like a night owl, nor did he get up before the sun shone high in the sky . Since he cared nothing for his appearance, he didn’t waste any time grooming himself—at this point in life, appearance was the last thing that mattered . Nobody was around to appreciate or criticize it anyway, so he simply made himself as comfortable as possible

After finishing a breakfast of noodle soup, he sat back on his bed and began his contemplations for the day

“I must get a designation,” he thought to himself . “Even if it means bowing to Fu Yang-Shan! That title is the only way to be considered a regular army and have a future career . Otherwise I’ll be stuck here marauding, and if things continue this way, we’ll become actual bandits . Li Shih-Yao and his ignorant, short-sighted likes see only the benefits at hand, never the larger picture . After all, they came from peasant stock, none of this matter to them . But I’m not like them…I can’t stay in this hellhole and play the local despot forever!”.

He had unwittingly knitted his brows . His fingers were gripping the hem of his shirt, his hands clutched into tight fists

Hsiao-Hu’s sudden yell came through the window . “Commander! Chief Lan’s back!”.

Lost in his thoughts, Commander Ho jumped at the abrupt noise

“What?”.

“Chief Lan is back,” Hsiao-Hu repeated himself out of habit . “Just got off the car outside the courtyard . He’s waiting to see you in the front hall . “.

Commander Ho stood up and took a few steps forward, but stopped in his tracks

“Tell him to come in here,” he ordered

Hsiao-Hu sounded his affirmation and ran out with heavy thuds, leaving Commander Ho in his room to undo his belt in a frantic rush and tuck the bottom of his shirt into his trousers . He did most of the buttons on his army coat—the coat was fairly wrinkled, but fortunately, he’s figure could be decked in anything and still look like an untainted porcelain statue

He’d wanted to comb his hair as well, but didn’t have the time . A moment later, Lan Bai-Shan had already helped himself in and saluted him in his straightest posture

“Commander! Bai-Shan reports back!” he declared in a clear voice

Commander Ho was trying to find his comb at a dresser, his back to Lan . He turned his head and threw him a glance, his face without any visible sign of joy

“When did you come back?” he inquired flatly

Lan shut the door behind him and took a few steps forward

“Just now, and I came straight here,” he said cheerfully

Commander Ho threw him another glance . Lan Bai-Shan stood erect in his unruffled uniform and appeared to be in high spirits . His eyes were shining with laughter

Under their influence, Commander Ho decided to say some kind words, though his tone always counteracted his intentions

“You must be tired from your journey . “.

Lan stepped in closer to him . “Not at all . Don’t worry, it’s not like I walked there on foot, nothing to really tire me . How about you? I was worried about leaving you here all by yourself . “.

Commander Ho walked to his bed and sat down, his hands tucked into his pockets . He started to say “I’m fine—” before realizing that something wasn’t quite right . He glanced up at Lan and thought to himself, what have you got to worry about? A staff officer worrying about his commander? How odd!.

Lan Bai-Shan met his gaze and gave him a calm smile . “Ji-Ch’ing, I’ve gotten you some presents from Hsian . Had them brought back with the trucks and unloaded in the courtyard . I promise you’ll be pleased once you see them . “.

Commander Ho stared down at the floor, savouring over the “Ji-Ch’ing” with amusement

“I’ll trust your taste . “.

Lan didn’t answer and dug out an ivory comb from his pocket instead . He steadied the Commander’s shoulder with one hand and with the other, started to comb through his dishevelled hair

“How can a young man like you treat yourself this way,” he muttered

Commander Ho let him fiddle with his head . “Haven’t got an audience . “.

“Well! What about me?” Lan laughed

“You?”.

“Am I not worthy?”.

Commander Ho let out a sudden laugh . “Sure you are, but why would you be looking at me?”.

Lan put away his comb and bent down in front of Commander Ho as if he were a child . He looked straight at Commander Ho’s snowy forehead

“I find you rather good-looking . “.

Commander Ho couldn’t find a reply and didn’t feel like discussing the matter any further, so in his panic, he gave a little chuckle and changed the subject

“How did they respond in Hsian?”.

Lan Bai-Shan paced before him with a hand in his pocket . “Fu Yang-Shan still isn’t taking a clear stand . He probably knows we need him, so he plays indecision . But that doesn’t matter . He’s now on terrible terms with Chao Chen-Sheng . Before they openly declare war, all we have to do is go to Chao for a visit and put out some rumours, then he’ll be the one running to us for incorporation . And if we’re lucky…” Lan smiled and sat down beside the Commander . “We might even earn some extra cash . “.

A very good idea indeed, but Commander Ho wasn’t smiling

His mind wasn’t on Fu Yang-Shan . Lan Bai-Shan had a faint trace of perfume on him—where did it come from?.

Meanwhile, Lan was still softly prospecting their bright future . Commander Ho forced himself to listen, but the scent was becoming stronger by every second and ascended to a point where it was almost irritating his nose

Reaching the end of his forbearance, he finally leapt to his feet . He cut Lan off mid-sentence and pointed a finger at the door

“Get out,” he said through gnashed teeth

Lan Bai-Shan was enraptured in his animated speech, never suspecting the sudden change in the Commander’s demeanor . He froze for a moment, and rose slowly to his feet

“Ji-Ch’ing, what’s wrong?”.

Commander Ho was indeed a man of few words, but his mind raced . The more he thought about it the odder it seemed, and eventually he almost killed himself with self-inflicted rage . When he looked up at Lan his eyes shone dangerously, which in fact made him look more alive than usual

“Out!”.

Lan wasn’t any dumber than Hsiao-Hu . Once he saw the Commander’s transformation—though he had no idea where the madness came from—he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to antagonize the Commander any further . Thus after a brief moment of hesitation, he turned away awkwardly and left with a crestfallen look

– : -.

After kicking Lan Bai-Shan out, Commander Ho brooded in depression and almost wished he could cough up blood . His hands clasped behind his back, he strolled to the front yard and saw a group of orderlies transporting all sorts of packages to a spare room . Chao Hsiao-Hu was standing in command . He ran up to Commander Ho and flashed a blandish smile

“Commander, Chief Lan brought these fabrics back from Hsian, and there’re two more bags of foreign sweets and cigarettes . I already had those moved to the inner yard . Do you wish to see them right now?”.

Commander Ho let out a deep breath

“Get your men and go check if Lan Bai-Shan’s brought back a woman,” he ordered with a troubled look

“Huh?” Hsiao-Hu asked in surprise

Commander Ho raised his hand and gave him a resounding slap across his face . His expression was almost ferocious

“‘Huh’ your mother’s fucking cunt!”.

That effectively ended Hsiao-Hu’s “huhs” . Rubbing his face, Hsiao-Hu called a couple of his mates and ran out of the courtyard

– : -.

The county-town of Luyang was a small place, so Ho Residence wasn’t very far from anywhere . Hsiao-Hu led his squad to Lan’s front gates and chatted the guards up for a while . It didn’t take very long before he got his answer, but he wasn’t in a hurry to report back . He brought his boys to a small local restaurant and dug leisurely through a plate of stewed beef and fried peanuts, perfectly at ease . Only when he had filled his satiety did he wipe his mouth clean, and started a sprint from the restaurant’s front door . He arrived at the Ho Residence just in time to run short of breath, his face appropriately flushed to convey his fatigue caused by the mission

“Commander! I’ve got it figured out!”.

Commander Ho was still standing in the front yard . He gave him a vicious stare

“Speak!”.

“Chief Lan did bring back a schoolgirl from Hsian . Said she’s only about seventeen, all dressed in Western clothes with leather shoes and bare thighs . And she’s real pretty . “.

Commander Ho nodded and looked as if he was about to become red in the face

“Well, well . Go on!”.

Hsiao-Hu blinked . “That was it . “.

Commander Ho spun around and began to head inside

“Tell Adjutant Chang to deliver a message, I’m holding a meeting this afternoon . “.

Hsiao-Hu nodded a yes, and rushed off again cheerfully

– : -.

Commander Ho took a very brief nap, got up—this time dressing himself properly—and left the house

The Anguo Army Headquarters was located at what was once a small school in Luyang . Over ten regimental commanders and a number of staff officers sat scattered in a classroom as they listened to Commander Ho’s lecture in silence

Commander Ho stood in front of the mass, his downcast eyes looking at no one but glaring angrily at the floor . He first went over the situation in Hsian concerning Fu, then immediately switched the subject

“The Anguo Army was once known for its excellent reputation back in the Old Marshal’s days, and as his son, it is partly my failure that it’s came to what it is today . But since we are now heading back onto the right track, it is important that from now on, everyone here corrects his body and soul and behave like a soldier, not some bandit! For example, when travelling in the army, one must never bring women! When your soldiers are sleeping alone in their cold beds, how can you officers have the face to seek entertainment with your women? If you continue to lack this sort of self-discipline, we might even lose our morale one day . Without morale, who’s going to fight and die for you? Where are you going to get your money?”.

He looked up suddenly and glanced around the room . Without warning, he changed his subject again

“Where is Jin Hwan-Ran?”.

“Still in Wantong,” Li Shih-Yao answered wearily . “He finally managed to find a place to stay . Why would he sacrifice it to come back? He’d rather die there!”.

Commander Ho pounded the ramshackle desk . “You scoundrels! Only a few days of peace and you’re all fighting with each other! Go ahead, kill yourselves in battle, and then get wiped out by those Tuoluo Bay Northeasterners, so we can all be finished for good! Damn it, Officer Ma! Go deliver a massage to Jin Hwan-Ran and tell him to come back here this instant! I have something to say to him!”.

Officer Ma—Aunt Ma gave his reply immediately and carefully . “Yes sir, I shall go to Wantong tonight . “.

Commander Ho pounded the desk again as if something else in him was triggered . His eyes gleamed

“Just what the hell is this place? There isn’t even a telephone around! You hopelessly unambitious fools, how can you be so content with yourselves in this stinking valley? You lot are fit for nothing but bandits! All in all, I only have two points to make in this meeting: One, no infighting! Two, no women! That’s all, meeting dismissed!”.

After that announcement, Commander Ho left the room by himself in rage . The rest of the crowd, however, were in no hurry . Colonel Sun turned around and whispered to Li Shih-Yao . “What was he getting at? Am I the only one thrown off?”.

Li laughed as he turned back to look at Lan Bai-Shan . “Chief Lan, you’re on the friendliest terms with the Commander, why don’t you give us an analysis of the Commander’s intentions?”.

“Don’t ask me,” Lan smiled . “I’ve no more idea about what’s going on than the rest of you . “.

Li Shih-Yao turned to Chief Ma . “What do you think, Auntie?”.

Ma was smiling as well . “I don’t know about anything else, but the thing about women was definitely for Chief Lan . “.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Li asked . “Chief Lan, you went to Hsian and brought back some lass?”.

Lan Bai-Shan smoothed his well-greased hair and smiled good-temperedly . “I did bring one . “.

Colonel Sun gave a clap . “Good for you, Old Lan!”.

“Not only that,” Ma added . “It’s a schoolgirl! Is that right?” he turned to Lan

Lan Bai-Shan simply smiled and remained silent

Li Shih-Yao started to laugh . “So we’ve found the key to the problem! Our young commander has to sleep with a pillow every night—did you know that? He sleeps holding a pillow—while Chief Lan gets to spend his nights with a schoolgirl . Ha, Ch’i-Baoshaoyehis jealous!”.

“Colonel Li, you can’t throw things like that around,” Lan warned immediately . “With Commander Ho’s narrow mind, he’d bite your head off if he ever hears about this . “.

Li Shih-Yao gave a defiant snort . “And I should be scared? He’s nothing but Ho Ch’i-Bao . “.

Colonel Sun detected that the conversation was heading off the rails and quickly interrupted: “Come on, Old Li! We haven’t even congratulated Chief Lan for winning his schoolgirl yet, why are you going on about the Commander? Schoolgirls are rarities, Old Lan, you must buy us dinner!”.

“Dinner?” Lan replied distractedly . “Commander Ho’s still on my case, and you expect me to be in the mood for dinner?”.

Li Shih-Yao wanted the whole world to be free of fear for Commander Ho, and frowned disapprovingly at the comment . “Why the hell are you all scared of him? So what if he has a problem with you? You fellows make no sense! Not scared of enemy bullets but afraid of Ho Ch’i-Bao!”.

The crowd fell silent

Li was exasperated at their cowardice . What he didn’t know was that he and these men shared the same concerns . While Commander Ho certainly didn’t bite, it was better not to provoke him if it could be avoided in any way