Edited and Proofread by KitKat
On the way back, An Chang Qing was in a good mood and had begun to figure out how to deal with the moles inside.
Whatever happened today had exceeded his expectations. He had wanted to deal with this after the New Year but the other shops were sure to have gotten wind of today’s events. Therefore, it would be better if he dealt with them in one go.
An Chang Qing thought it over and discussed with Xiao Zhige, “Before the year changes, let’s bring in the store managers of all the shops and rough them up. We’ll settle the accounts bit by bit after the New Year.”
Xiao Zhige responded, “Do as you see fit.”
In fact, all these years, he was mostly stationed in Yanzhou. Even when he returned to Yejing, he couldn’t be bothered to deal with these matters and rarely interfered with the management of the manor. All along, it was Steward Wang who overlooked everything.
An Chang Qing observed his expression and continued, “The stores are all under Steward Wang’s charge, it’s not possible he was unaware of Tian Yi Fang’s situation.”
Xiao Zhige nodded. Of course he had thought of this. Steward Wang was an adept attendant who served him but he was not his confidant. Xiao Zhige’s foundation was in the army of Yanzhou. To him, the Wang Manor in Yejing had always been just a foothold. Steward Wang had been with him for a long time and was well-versed with commerce, this was why Xiao Zhige had relinquished everything to him. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t expected Steward Wang to try and make a profit for himself but he had led many battles and knew that this was similar to looting the place after winning a battle. It was not sanctioned but cannot be fully prevented.
Therefore, he had always turned a blind eye to Steward Wang’s actions.
However, it was obvious that Steward Wang had caused his Wangfei immense dissatisfaction. Xiao Zhige could only coordinate with An Chang Qing and asked, “How do you plan to deal with him?”
“We’re currently short of staff, let’s just put some fear in him but let him continue to work.” Ever since Xiao Zhige had read to him the book on warfare, An Chang Qing had occasionally gone to his study to continue reading up on it. As of now, he had somewhat grasped the concept of psychological warfare.
“We’ll let him hang first, the more guilt and fear he has, the more dedicated to his work he will be.”
Steward Wang might’ve gone astray but he was a timid person. Based on An Chang Qing’s observations, he only dared to cash in if the opportunity allowed for it but he would not have the guts to deceive Xiao Zhige.
Xiao Zhige looked at him in surprise. He had thought that An Chang Qing would use this chance to get rid of Steward Wang. After all, from the time An Chang Qing entered the Wang Manor, the two had not been harmonious with each other. He would never have expected An Chang Qing to do things this way.
His eyes flickered and he agreed, “Nuo Nuo’s words are very reasonable.”
An Chang Qing, “…”
When the carriage arrived at the Wang Manor, Steward Wang brought the servants to greet them. His face was looking pale. Before An Chang Qing’s return, Anfu had brought the store manager and clerk from Tian Yi Fang back and let Zhao Shi escort them to the cell.
When An Chang Qing took over, he knew that sooner or later, the situation in the shops would be unearthed and had specifically warned the ones in charge to show some restraint. But unfortunately, the year wasn’t even over and they were already caught.
He wiped his sweat and bowed low, “Will Wangye and Wangfei be having dinner?”
An Chang Qing raised the paper bag in his hand and said, “Prepare a few non-greasy side dishes, we’re having roasted duck today.”
After dinner, An Chang Qing called Steward Wang and told him to summon all the managers.
Having spent his days with Xiao Zhige, An Chang Qing was influenced by him and had learned how to be intimidating without having to be aggressive. When the overly delicate face became serious, it now carried a vigor similar to Xiao Zhige’s.
“I happened to witness the situation at Tian Yi Fang, the other stores are most likely to have the same problem,” An Chang Qing tapped a finger on the table at a slow rhythm, “Since Wangye has entrusted me with all the family properties, I have to manage them well so as to live up to his expectation. Steward Wang, don’t you agree?”
Butler Wang’s back arched further and his face was filled with bitterness. Wangfei’s words were clearly aimed at him and even a fool could tell that he was trying to stir him up. After the staff of Tiann Yi Fang was taken into custody, he knew not what they had revealed, only that An Chang Qing would not easily let this matter rest.
And as expected, the other managers were being summoned as well. It seemed An Chang Qing was determined to get to the bottom of this.
Although he was not directly involved, turning a blind eye was akin to abetting. An Chang Qing had not addressed his mistake but his every action had caused him to feel aggravating distress.
Steward Wang replied with caution, “Wangfei’s words are very true.”
Having acquired the desired result, An Chang Qing waved his hand, “Go make the arrangements.”
In the blink of an eye, two days passed and Steward Wang had scheduled for the store managers to meet on the twentieth of this month. And in the middle, Tie Hu returned with news of the nunnery.
This nunnery was unknown to most. Unless one traveled outside the city, they would not have even heard of the place.
Tie Hu’s investigation found that this nunnery’s ideology had been far removed from its religious roots. The people of Da Ye followed Taoism, so naturally, not many would burn incense for Buddhist Temples, much less this remote nunnery. And as the number of visitors waned, the nature of this place began to change. It was no longer a place for worshipping but a prostitution lair in disguise.
Because of its remote location and arduous condition, most of the women sent there were sinners or widows with nowhere else to go.
As the place lacked many things from the materialistic world and the women living there weren’t exactly virtuous to begin with, they eventually charmed men into visiting the nunnery and obtained ‘incense money’ in return. The woman that the little beggar mentioned was called Jiao Ying. She was one of the best earners in the nunnery. It was said that she had long been booked by a nobleman and did not serve anyone else.
Due to the time constraint, Tie Hu could not verify who this nobleman was but judging from the little beggar’s words, this person was most likely Wu Juan Shu. Furthermore, he had also made two other unexpected discoveries.
“The woman named Jiao Ying had sent her maid to get some aborticide. I saw that her stomach is also slightly bulging, she’s probably pregnant.”
An Chang Qing raised his eyebrows. In his last life, when she had entered the Marquis’s house, there was no mention of any children. If this child was Wu Juan Shu’s, she could use this to rightfully become his wife and enter the Marquis’s house. Even if the Marquis refused to accept her, they would still have to compensate her for the abortion.
Why did she secretly have to buy aborticide?
An Chang Qing felt that something was amiss but for the time being, he still couldn’t put a finger on it. He moved on, “What else did you discover?”
“I managed to track down the crazy woman.”
The crazy woman was spotted while he was watching the nunnery. She lived in a village near the nunnery and was in constant babbles about how a vixen had killed her son. Tie Hu had accidentally heard the villagers discussing her and decided to investigate. Much to his surprise, he made another useful discovery.
“This woman was not always crazy. Her husband’s surname was Qian and had died early, leaving her with one son, Qian Yun. Qian Yun was born short and unsightly but being skilled at grooming horses eventually landed him a job in the Wu Manor. A few years later, when he had saved enough money, he married a girl from the neighboring village and that was Jiao Ying.
In contrast to Qian Yun, Jiao Ying was beautiful and charming. After marrying him, she would stay home to serve her mother-in-law and occasionally brought food to the Wu Manor for him. Life was peaceful until one day, Qian Yun came home and gave Jiao Ying a slap. People in the village suspected that Jiao Ying was having an affair with someone outside but before they could confirm their conjecture, Qian Yun fell into a pond on his way home and drowned.
Qian Yun’s death caused his mother to go mad, cursing at Jiao Ying and blaming her adultery for his death. But Jiao Ying was no pushover, every day, the two would quarrel and fight like cats and dogs. After some time, it was said that Jiao Ying had run off and the woman’s insanity worsened, swearing at Jiao Ying on sight of anyone willing to listen.”
“The Marquis’s house again…” An Chang Qing contemplated, “Then the adulterer is most likely Wu Juan Shu. Is it possible that he killed Qian Yun then hid Jiao Ying in the nunnery?”
Tie Hu said, “It seemed so but I’ve checked with several of the villagers and they said that they saw Jiao Ying boarding a carriage and getting intimate with a man in his late thirties. There is some discrepancy between his age and Wu Juan Shu’s…”
This news was quite pleasing to his ears. An Chang Qing said while thinking, “Maybe Jiao Ying has more than one ‘patron’. Her child, it is possible that it’s not Wu Juan Shu’s. That is why she had to get an abortion?”
Tie Hu also came to the same conclusion. But as a brute who had only fought on the battlefield, this type of hammy affairs was confusing to him.
After strategizing up a plan, An Chang Qing said, “Continue to watch the nunnery. Also, is there a way to swap Jiao Ying’s aborticide?”
Tie Hu thought it over and replied, “I can try.”
“Then give it a shot,” An Chang Qing continued, “Change it to maternity medicine. One more thing… find a way to divulge this news to Wu Juan Shu.”
Tie Hu glanced at him in surprise, thinking that Wangfei can be cruel when he needs to be. If the baby in Jiao Ying’s belly is not Wu Juan Shu’s, there’s going to be a big show for everyone to see.
Tie Hu left after receiving his orders.
An Chang Qing then called for Zhou He Lan and they went to the cell to question the store manager and clerk.
When the store manager and clerk were brought back to the manor, An Chang Qing did not use force against them. He only kept them locked up in separate cells, no matter how much they begged and admitted their mistakes, he refused to grant them an audience. And today had already been the third day.
It was time to put them on trial.
Zhao Shi led them to the interrogation room. Although the rumors stated that the Wang Manor was like purgatory, the truth was that ever since the prison was built, it was rarely put to use. That said, the place was complete with torture instruments in accordance with the military specifications for interrogating spies.
When the store manager and clerk saw the gruesome apparatus, they immediately turned frail due to fear.
Zhao Shi brought a chair for An Chang Qing to sit on and dragged the clerk out first.
The clerk was incredibly terrified. When he saw An Chang Qing, he knelt down and banged his head on the ground, begging for mercy.
Zhou He Lan was in charge of the interrogation and after a few questions, he was able to get a clear idea of what was going on in Tian Yi Fang.
It turned out that the manager from Tian Yi Fang had colluded with the Zhan Family’s garment shop. In the beginning, Tian Yi Fang had a good reputation and was quite popular in Yejing. To steal their business, the Zhan family had first poached their tailors then paid the manager to inflate the prices. As a result, many customers eventually preferred to buy from the cheaper priced Zhan family stores.
Consequentially, the manager got bolder with the increasing money he received from the Zhan family. He not only overpriced the items but also sold Tian Yi Fang’s clothes to them at a slightly higher price than the cost. Even the profit was put into his pocket. When he had to give a report, he claimed that the garments weren’t selling and had to sell them cheaply.
An Chang Qing was simply enraged to the point of almost laughing, “When did it start?”
The clerk’s lips were shaking as he said, “About two to three years ago.”
An Chang Qing’s expression went through several different changes before finally calming down. After the interrogation, Zhou He Lan made the man sign a confession and then proceeded to bring the store manager up.
Seeing the fingerprint on the confession paper, the manager had a look of distress. The story he came up with earlier was now useless, he could only confess honestly. Word by word, he recorded down every meeting and transaction he had had with the Zhan family.
After his confession, An Chang Qing inquired about the situations of the other stores. These managers tended to socialize with each other to exchange information and goods that the other lacked. The manager could only comply and write down what he knew.
In the cold winter, the manager’s face was filled with sweat after he finished writing down his statement. Just as he was about to feel relieved, he heard An Chang Qing say, “After this, send him to the judicial court.”
The manager’s face turned ash pale; he knew that his future was over.
An Chang Qing personally tallied up the amount of silver Tian Yi Fang had lost and how much of it had flowed into the Zhan family’s pocket.
He smiled coldly thinking of the lump of dough that he had let escape. He patted the table twice and said to Zhou He Lan, “Bring Tie Hu along. We’re going to requisition money from the Zhan family.”
Such a large sum of money, he couldn’t let it go just like that.
Zhou He Lan could see that he was brooding. He considered briefly then advised, “Why don’t you ask Wangye to come with us? This way, things will go faster and easier, we might be able to reacquire more than we expect.”
An Chang Qing was on the same wavelength. He looked at Zhou He Lan with appreciation and they set off to find Xiao Zhige.
The barracks outside the city were on hiatus, allowing Xiao Zhige to remain in the manor. Seeing An Chang Qing coming with a stack of documents, he could somewhat guess, “You’re done with the interrogation?”
“En, they’ve been sent to the court. But the amount we’ve lost is not small, I’m going to the Zhan house to get it back.” An Chang Qing looked at him heatedly, “Can Wangye come with me?”
Looking at his expectant eyes, Xiao Zhige did not have to think twice before agreeing.
An Chang Qing blissfully walked ahead, “I’ll go have the carriage called.”
And so, on this afternoon, the people of Yejing saw a magnificent carriage coming out of the Wang Manor’s big gate. The large ‘Xiao’ carved into the carriage was hard to miss.
The carriage headed straight to the Zhan family’s garment store without stopping. The clerk who was still unknowing went out to greet them nervously.
With trembling legs, he invited An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige who got off the carriage with two abominable bodyguards by their side into the store.
After sitting down, An Chang Qing sipped his tea leisurely before stating his purpose, “Wangye and I are here to collect certain debts.”
“Debts?” The shopkeeper had steam coming out of his head. He carefully phrased his words, “This… The Zhan family couldn’t possibly owe Wangye any debts, could it?”
An Chang Qing motioned for Anfu to present the confession slip and account book for him to see while An Chang Qing continued to drink his tea.
The shopkeeper flipped through the account book and his face changed drastically. He looked up at the two imposing bigshots then back at the item in his hand and said, “Wangye, Wangfei, please wait, I’m going to fetch my master.”
The Northern Warlord’s reputation was indeed useful. The store owner not only arrived promptly, he even brought along several boxes of silver.
The head of the Zhan family resembled a lump of dough with hair and a figure larger than the Zhan Young Master. He came forward and saluted, “I’ve brought the silver, Wangye, Wangfei, please take a look.”
The servants then went on to open the chests. Inside was bright shiny silver. Anfu counted and it amounted to a whopping forty thousand taels of silver, almost twice as much as the money they were hoping to collect.
Looking at the spectacular silver, An Chang Qing’s eyes sparkled and he smiled satisfyingly, “Good, that seems like the right amount.”
Seeing An Chang Qing bluntly accepting all the silver, Master Zhan was bleeding inside. However, he knew that they were at fault and what was more terrifying was that the God Killer Northern Warlord had come in person. He could only force a smile and say, “That’s good, that’s good.”
An Chang Qing was delighted to have acquired double the amount and decided to let them off. The bodyguards carried the silver chests into the carriage and they left as mightily as they had come.
Master Zhan heaved a sigh as though he had just escaped death. But after being relieved for only one day, he got wind of news that Wangfei was handing out porridge for the poor in front of Tian Yi Fang.
The Northern Warlord’s Wangfei was wearing a cotton-padded robe from Tian Yi Fang and stood at the door with an air of nobility. On him was only a simple cotton robe but it looked more elegant and exquisite than the stuff made of colorful brocade.
The people of Yejing were thrilled to be able to witness Wangfei’s face for the first time. Even if it weren’t for the porridge, buying the same garment as Wangfei from Tian Yi Fang to share a hint of his grace was still worth it!
Adding in those who loved to watch the excitement, a large number of people gathered in front of Tian Yi Fang.
And anyone who could spare Master Zhan a glimpse could tell that he was about to have a heart attack.
Lately, the people of the Wang Manor were in constant fear. None dared to go close to Wangye’s study.
Wangye would practice his spear here every day but for some reason, recently, his expression during these sessions was incredibly intimidating, like he was out for blood. Everyone in the Wang Manor would take a detour just to avoid the place.
This morning, An Chang Qing got up early again. He changed into a new robe sent by Tian Yi Fang and got ready to leave. Even after retrieving the silver from the Zhan family, An Chang Qing did not become complacent. The silver is dead while the shop is alive. A prosperous Tian Yi Fang could earn him much more than forty thousand silver taels.
He discussed with Zhou He Lan and they came up with a solution to save Tian Yi Fang from its decline – let An Chang Qing hand out porridge at the storefront.
Tian Yi Fang’s reputation had been soiled for over two years, this could not be fixed overnight. Accidentally, Zhou He Lan recalled the well-received scripts of Wangfei and Wangye and decided to go out on a limb and let An Chang Qing promote their clothes by wearing them and doing charity right in front of Tian Yi Fang.
On one hand, they could acquire a good reputation, on the other, this would attract people to Tian Yi Fang. This efficient method of killing two birds with one stone, of course An Chang Qing readily accepted.
Unexpectedly, the result was better than they had anticipated. Not only was Tian Yi Fang’s business booming again, but the Wang Manor’s reputation was also rectified.
The only downside was the increase in the number of scripts being circulated and the storytellers’ improving business.
And due to Wangfei’s busy schedule, leaving early and returning late, the Northern Warlord’s mood was getting worse.
When Zhou He Lan came to the main yard early today to look for An Chang Qing, a black and golden spear struck right past him. He stumbled two steps back in shock. Looking in the direction from where the spear came from, he saw the person approaching and quickly saluted, “Wangye.”
Xiao Zhige looked at him in silence and went to retrieve his spear.
That one look caused Zhou He Lan’s hair to stand up.
He just couldn’t understand what he had done to incur Wangye’s anger.
Why did he look so menacing?!