Shafts and Turtles
“Who's the black private dick / That's a sex machine to all the chicks? / SHAFT! / Ya damn right!
Who is the man that would risk his neck / For his brother man? / SHAFT! / Can you dig it?”
--Theme to Shaft, (1971)
Chapter Thirty Seven - Shafts and Turtles
Huang Ming saw the one who had spoken was his father, Huang Zheng. He had just returned together with Huang Lang from the governor’s residence, their faces flushed with alcohol and merriment. It appeared relations had indeed been mended between the two houses, yet Huang Zheng’s face was severe as he glared at Huang Ming.
Seeing the Patriarch of the Huangs, Sunli and Qiong Ying leapt to their feet and bowed in reverence. Huang Zheng nodded brusquely in acknowledgement but kept his eyes on his youngest son.
“Father, what did you say?” Huang Ming asked.
“I said you should visit her,” Huang Zheng repeated evenly, his eyes glimmered with anger. One could see his words did not match his expression, and Qiong Ying’s heart trembled with the realization that her opportunity had all but evaporated. It was obvious that General Huang did not look favourably on the so-called Lady Qiong Ying of the Lichun Brothel.
Huang Ming arched an eyebrow as he had no idea what his father was thinking. “Alright, I will…” he said slowly, choosing the safest route by agreeing with his father.
Only to see his father’s eyes bulge. “I dare you to say that again,” Huang Zheng growled, his beard bristling.
“Make up your mind, should I or shouldn’t I?” Huang Ming demanded with annoyance. Seeing the reddish hue on his father’s face only increased Huang Ming’s discontent, he had little patience with people who were acting under the influence of alcohol.
“Of course not!” Huang Zheng exploded. Huang Lang tried to calm their father down, but the patriarch angrily shook off his ministrations.
“Then why did you ask me to go?” Huang Ming muttered, further enraging his father.
“You! Is your shamelessness limitless? If I ever hear about you going to the Lichun again, I’ll skin you alive!” Huang Zheng roared.
“Fine, then I won’t go,” Huang Ming said mildly. Perhaps it was due to the lack of fear in his son’s voice, but Huang Zheng thought his son was being disrespectful. Yet, his son had agreed and thus he could not fault him. Thus he turned his attentions at Qiong Ying who had ignited his ire with her suggestion in the first place.
“And you! How dare you try to deviate my son with a mere prostitute!” the general warned.
Qiong Ying’s knew she had offended the general with a simple off-handed remark. His harsh words stabbed the deepest reaches of her soul, her ears were roaring and her heart was a storm. All she could do was bow deeper and avert her eyes in supplication, biting her lips underneath her mask. She could not even muster the outrage against the degrading label the general had used. Despite her current abode at the Lichun, she had never lain with a man.
Huang Ming frowned. It was one thing to be rebuked, but why drag his friend into it? He felt it was uncharacteristic of his father, his outburst seemed unusual. ‘Is it because of the drink? No wonder mother was so irritated at Zhao Tong and his drinking parties,’ Huang Ming thought.
“Father, Brother Quan Lu was only joking,” he explained.
“Enough, speak no more,” Huang Zheng snorted. He shook his sleeves and turned away. Huang Lang gave his younger brother an apologetic look and shrugged helplessly before following suit.
The atmosphere ruined, Huang Ming could only sigh.
“I should leave,” Qiong Ying said morosely.
Huang Ming gently consoled his friend by tapping Quan Lu on the shoulder. “I would speak against my father, but it’s obvious that he’s drunk. Don’t be disheartened, I will visit you soon, you can introduce her to me.”
Qiong Ying was stunned. “But… but you said…”
“Bah, he will probably forget it tomorrow. Don’t worry about it,” Huang Ming said easily.
Qiong Ying shook her head. “No, I shouldn’t. You should not disappoint your father.”
“I have always been a disappointment to my father, what’s one more strike against me?” Huang Ming shrugged.
“You… why would you go so far? I am taking advantage of you,” Qiong Ying murmured.
“Brother Quan Lu, I don’t know too much about the Lady Qiong Ying, but judging from your reaction to my father’s words, it would seem that she is dear to you. If she is your friend, then she can be my friend too. If she’s your beloved, well, as you are my brother; then she can be my sister,” Huang Ming said sincerely.
Qiong Ying was moved. Just moments ago, all her nascent plans and small hopes seemed to have been blown away by a tempest. Now Huang Ming’s words appeared like sheltering hands protecting a kindling fire.
“I do not think that would be wise, the general would disapprove of you associating with a prostitute,” Sunli said matter-of-factly.
“I do not view such ladies negatively without reason. Everyone has their own circumstances. Besides, I’m not one of those who insist on idolizing virgins and demonizing widows,” Huang Ming said derisively.
“Why not?” Qiong Ying asked curiously.
“Do you know why some men are obsessed with virgins?” Huang Ming asked instead.
“Because they want to taint the pure with their own hands,” Sunli snorted, and Qiong Ying found herself nodding in agreement. There had been a few requests for ‘young delicacies’ at the brothel, Madam Xu had such patrons thrown out after thoroughly tricking them with drinks.
Huang Ming motioned for his guests to lean closer, to which they obliged.
“It’s because they have small Steaming Shafts and Turtle-Heads!” Huang Ming chuckled, causing them to flush hotly at the euphemisms of male genitalia.
“What the hell do you mean!” Sunli asked angrily.
“Think about it. They want to do the good deed with someone who had never done it before. They are insecure about their size, so obviously they want a partner who has no experience and thus unable to compare the size of their Jade Pillar!” Huang Ming chortled.
The light of realization dawned on their faces, even as they continued to blush furiously.
“I also don’t mind dark-skinned women like you, Ms. Guardswoman. All women look the same in the dark,” Huang Ming grinned.
“You, you scoundrel!” Sunli huffed. She raised a hand as if to strike, but changed her mind and stomped off exasperatedly.
“I think I’m wearing her down,” Huang Ming smirked. He found himself enjoying teasing the stoic beauty. He did not really mean anything by it, but it was always fun for him to break down an all-too-serious person.
Seeing how Qiong Ying did not say anything, Huang Ming turned to look at his friend and saw that Quan Lu was deep in thought. Qiong Ying found herself thoroughly confused. Huang Ming’s behaviour was completely beyond her expectations. Serious one moment, flippant another. Carelessly ignoring his father, yet would do so much for a friend. It wreaked havoc with her thinking, at one point she was all but ready to reveal her identity after hearing his dissertations; only to change her mind after he had behaved frivolously.
“I say, there’s no need to think too much about such things,” Huang Ming said sheepishly, thinking that Quan Lu was going over what he had said about shafts and turtles.
“I was not!” Qiong Ying snapped in her real voice. Immediately she was horrified by her mistake and quickly coughed a fit as a cover.
Huang Ming blinked. “You really should see a doctor for that,” he said.
“Never you mind, I have my medication,” Qiong Ying shot back. She looked up at the night sky and at the moon above and said, “The hour is late, I should return.”
Huang Ming saw that his friend was right and agreed. He escorted his guest to the main doors where they bade each other farewell.
“I’ll visit you soon,” Huang Ming reminded as she left. He stayed at the gate until his friend disappeared into the night, his mind full of thoughts.
From a corner of the Huang residence, various eyes looked at the young master with interest.
Thus, the eventful day came to a close.
He has his own path,
Even if brings a father’s wrath.