April 17. Morning.
Within two hours of sunrise, every disciple of the Flowered Flag Sect had made contact with their street-level informants, and distributed a picture and instructions.
The picture had been drawn by one of the most famous sketch artists in Jinan, drawn based on descriptions provided by the staff of “Big Zhao’s” restaurant. It depicted two people.
A middle-aged man named Wu Tao, sharp-faced with narrow eyes, a long nose and a wide mouth, dressed up like a traveling merchant.
Another, a young beggar called Ingot, round-faced with big eyes and a smile that produced two dimples. Completely adorable.
The instructions had been dispatched with “Level 1 Flowered Flag” urgency: expend all effort possible to track down the whereabouts of these two people.
Within an hour, even the local bailiffs and constables attached to the Jinan local government had joined the search.
This was because the three squads of the Jinan constabulary had received an anonymous tip that the businessman Wu Tao was very likely one of the four famous criminals wanted in all parts of China. In fact, he could well be the famous bandit who had three times broken into the Imperial Palace to make off with treasures, a person people in Jianghu viewed as second only to the “Bandit Chief” Chu Liuxiang . The “Laughing General.”
On the wooden bench sat a large tray of onion sauce and flatbreads, a big bowl of tender stewed meat, and a large plate of spiced, stir-fried vegetables.
Old Master Tian usually ate breakfasts such as this. He believed that if you ate a good breakfast, you would have plenty of energy to accomplish things throughout the day.
Today, he didn’t eat much.
Today, he had something weighing on his mind, and felt somewhat emotional.
“The Laughing General, surnamed Li,” he said. “He’s really got guts. And skills.”
“His name is Li… what?”
“I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
“Okay,” said Frogboy, “Well then, why do people call him the Laughing General?”
“Everyone acknowledges that his skill and ability is only slightly lower than that of Chu Liuxiang, so they call him General.”
“What about the ‘Laughing’ part?”
“After every heist, he lets out three big laughs.” Old Master Tian sighed. “Back then, when people heard that laugh, some became so frightened that they actually pissed their pants.”
“Gone?” said Frogboy, confused. “What does that mean?”
“Gone means gone. By the time people heard that laugh, gone.”
“What was gone?”
“Gold, pearls, jewelry, ancient jades and paintings. Anything and everything the General wanted to take, gone.”
Old Master Tian sighed again. “Ten years ago, he himself was gone. Like a bowl of alcohol poured down your throat. Suddenly, just gone.”
“Not gone,” said Frogboy. “When I pour a bowl of alcohol down my throat, it goes into my stomach.”
“Still gone. When
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