“I don't need bodyguards. I'm from the South Bronx.”
--Al Pacino


Chapter Forty Three - Brewing trouble

“What does beloved mother want from this lowly son?” Huang Ming said in what he thought was his most earnest and filial voice as he knelt before his mother.


Madam Li was not fooled for a moment. “Do you know how worried I was last night? Your friends came running here, telling me that you were entangled with some robbers like some heroic fantasy character.”


“I am indeed sorry, mother,” Huang Ming said, honestly chastened. “But in the end, all was well.”


His mother sighed. “Yes… this time. But what about the next time?”


“Well, I am keeping myself fit these days. I’ll just run away,” Huang Ming grinned.


Madam Li snorted. “Don’t think I haven’t been keeping an eye on you. You are prone to shoot off your mouth and offend people with your nonsensical talk. In fact, I think it has gotten worse since you told me you decided to turn over a new leaf.”


“Worse? What do you mean?” Huang Ming demanded, genuinely annoyed. He thought that there was no comparison with the original in any way, after all the original Huang Ming was debauched and degenerate.


“Before, your ramblings could be attributed to you being drunk most of the time or just plainly stupid,” Madam Li said, causing her maids to giggle behind her. “But people now know you do have some ability. You managed to squirm your way when dealing with Liu Xiang, and somehow gotten friendly with Cao Shuang. You cannot be careless with your tongue any more, one of these days it will cause you grief with someone troublesome.”


“You mean, like offending a spoiled young master somewhere?” Huang Ming smiled faintly, recalling the oft-used plot device in Earth’s fiction.


While not really understanding her son’s remark, Madam Li continued, “I think you need a guardsman.”


Huang Ming was aghast. “You must be joking!”


“I am not,” Madam Li said testily.


“You are not getting me a babysitter. I can take care of myself,” Huang Ming growled.


“Like how you wrestled Sunli on the ground? Your brothers told me what they saw this morning,” Madam Li said, giving the guardwoman an eyeful. Sunli’s face reddened, but she stood still at attention and maintained her thousand-mile stare as if she did not hear it. Zhao Hongqi tittered mischievously by her side.


“Those brothers of mine are worse than those gossiping busybodies at the wet market!” Huang Ming complained. “We were just exchanging pointers. Sunli says she can train our maids in self-defence.”


“Whatever for?”


“The same reason you’re thinking about getting me a babysitter. You go out visiting your friends, sometimes only taking your maids with you and without a single guard. What happens if someone powerful takes a fancy to you? You’re still a beautiful woman, mother,” Huang Ming said solemnly.


“You flatterer,” Madam Li said, somewhat pleased with his praise.


“It’s for the maids’ own protection too. Since they do go out occasionally on errands, it would be better if they could defend themselves if needed be,” Huang Ming added.


Some of the maids nodded in agreement. Seeing their general consent, Madam Li turned towards the guardswoman. “Well, what can you teach my maids?” she asked.


“Concealed weapons are the best for them. They can easily hide a small dagger in their dress,” Sunli answered.


Madam Li nodded in approval. “Fine, draw up a schedule. We will implement your lessons as soon as possible.”


The guardswoman gave her a military salute, inwardly admiring Madam Li’s decisiveness. Huang Ming saw that Sunli was very pleased at the chance to prove herself, and he couldn’t resist in teasing her.


“I thought you would want to teach unarmed combat,” he said with a grin.


Sunli’s face froze. She glared at Huang Ming as she once again recalled what had happened in the morning.


“You are better at it. Perhaps the young master wants the opportunity to do some ‘hands-on training’ with the madam’s maids,” she said frostily.


It was Huang Ming’s turn to have his face seize up, the grin on his face faltering as his mother’s maids shook with mirth. Madam Li was amused seeing how Huang Ming had been taken aback.


Then Madam Li asked, “Your friend, that Quan Lu fellow, is he still around?”


Huang Ming blinked. “Yes, but he says he’s leaving for a trip within the week.”


“How did you two meet? Where is he now?”


Obviously, Huang Ming was reluctant to tell his mother the truth to her first question. “Why do you want to know?” he asked instead.


“He saved your life before, we need to thank him,” Madam Li replied.


“Oh. How do you want to reward him? I can just bring it to him,” Huang Ming suggested.


“Don’t be boorish. Bring him over for dinner.”


Huang Ming grimaced, remembering how his father had rebuked Quan Lu the night before. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea…” he muttered and told his mother about the encounter.


Madam Li’s face became grim as she listened. “This is why I don’t like it when your father drinks,” she sighed.


“Well, Ah Lang didn’t do anything to stop him either,” Huang Ming reminded her. Since his brothers decided to tattle on him previously, Huang Ming decided to return the favour.


“All the men in the family are too fond of the drink, even you!” Madam Li scolded.


“You can’t blame Ah Lang and Ah Ke though. Ah Lang has to entertain business contacts, and Ah Ke’s in the military and of course his army buddies would ask him to drink now and then,” Huang Ming said, entirely without any real basis. He was simply making things up, based on logical reasoning.


“Hmph. I will talk to them about it. Meanwhile, go find your friend and invite him for dinner at his convenience,” Madam Li said.


“If you say so…” Huang Ming said hesitantly, wondering how to tell her that her order meant having him going to the Lichun Brothel once more.


Thinking that her son was worried about the father’s reaction, Madam Li waved a hand in quick dismissal. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to your father.”


Huang Ming gave up. “Mother is most wise and gracious. I shall do as you say,” he mumbled. ‘I’ll just not tell her,’ he thought.


“Sunli, I want you to go with him. Keep an eye on him, don’t let him get into any more trouble,” Madam Li ordered.


The guardswoman nodded, and Huang Ming blanched with horror.

 

He thought he had escaped,
Alas, it has gone pear-shaped.​