He was mocking him.
Xia Lei laughed. “I didn’t get one, actually. I wonder if…”
Ahn Suhyeong spread his hands. “That is Choi Myeongho’s responsibility. I’ll help you ask. The guests tonight are respected figures in the Republic of Korea. You should get an invitation if you are of good enough standing.”
Xia Lei just laughed and didn’t say anything.
Shentu Tian-Yin let out a quiet sigh. If Xia Lei’s behaviour had been bad, then this now was worse. The man she, Shentu Tian-Yin, wanted was definitely not someone who would speak deferentially to others to gain favour, and not one who would be mocked by others!
Ahn Suhyeong was not interested in talking to Xia Lei any longer. He walked towards Shentu Tian-Yin and a graceful, gentle smile appeared on his face. “You are so beautiful tonight, Tian-Yin. You will surely be the brightest gem at the banquet.”
Shentu Tian-Yin stood from the dressing table and a small, sweet smile appeared on her face too. “Thank you.”
Shentu Tian-Yin’s smile made Ahn Suhyeong even happier. She had smiled at him, and more importantly, he had put Xia Lei in his place as a lowly dog, and Xia Lei could do nothing about it!
“Let’s go. The banquet is starting soon.” Ahn Suhyeong gestured in invitation in a gentlemanly way.
“Yes, let’s.” Shentu Tian-Yin agreed, but her gaze went to Xia Lei. She was hesitant - should she ask Xia Lei to attend too?
Xia Lei walked over to her. “There’s something on your face, Tian-Yin.” As he spoke, he reached for her face with his right hand before waiting for her to react.
Xia Lei did not move quickly; he seemed hesitant.
Shentu Tian-Yin having no reaction did not mean that Ahn Suhyeong would stand still either. Ahn Suhyeong reached out and grabbed Xia Lei’s hand just as it was about to touch her face. “What are you doing?”
Xia Lei’s hand suddenly changed directions to hold Ahn Suhyeong’s hand. “Oh, excuse me, I must have seen wrong. You guys go ahead. I’m going back to my room to rest.” He turned to leave.
The whole process went as expected. Ahn Suhyeong felt like he had stopped Xia Lei’s rude action in time by grabbing his hand, and Shentu Tian-Yin had no clue either.
“Come with us, Lei.” Shentu Tian-Yin changed her mind when Xia Lei got to the door. It was she who had invited Xia Lei to Korea, so she would feel terrible about it if Xia Lei didn’t have the right to attend a banquet.
Ahn Suhyeong was against it, of course, but he could not refuse Shentu Tian-Yin. His response was full of knowing. “Didn’t you hear that, Mr Xia? Tian-Yin’s invitation is my invitation. You can attend the banquet.”
‘You speak as though I’ve never wined and dined in my life!’ Xia Lei cursed, but was amiable on the surface. “Oh, sure. Thanks. I’ll use the washroom for a bit.”
Xia Lei turned back and strode quickly into the bathroom in the room.
“Uncultured,” Ahn Suhyeong sneered.
Shentu Tian-Yin wrinkled her brows again. Was inviting Xia Lei to the banquet a mistake?
“Let’s go, Tian-Yin. Mr Xia will make it there,” said Ahn Suhyeong.
“All right, let’s go.” Shentu Tian-Yin left the room with Ahn Suhyeong.
In the bathroom, Xia Lei quickly took out the blue bottle and sprayed his right hand. The two liquids combined and the prints and lines on his hand changed quickly, turning into Ahn Suhyeong’s. He checked his watch. He had just an hour to steal the sword of Attila.
“I got it. Start the operation,” said Xia Lei into a button on his shirt.
Long Bing’s voice came from over the tiny receiver in his ear. “Begin.”
Xia Lei walked out of the bathroom. The room was empty of Shentu Tian-Yin and Ahn Suhyeong. He knew when they had left but seeing the empty room made his heart ache a little.
‘Have I become someone hated?’ Xia Lei laughed at himself, then left the room.
The banquet was being held in the dining hall of the Ahn Retreat. The hall was large and there were not very many guests but they were all movers and shakers in the Korean business world. Xia Lei spotted Shentu Tian-Yin chatting with some Koreans with Ahn Suhyeong as her interpreter when he entered the dining hall. He was handsome, and she was cool and aristocratic - the two of them made for a perfect pair.
A server walked up to Xia Lei with a serving tray and said in a low voice, “Where’s the stuff?”
Xia Lei then saw that the server was Qin Xiang. He had pasted a moustache on his upper lip and done some fine adjustments to his face. No wonder he couldn’t be recognised at first glance. Who would’ve expected Qin Xiang, who had a face women envied, to put a moustache on his face?
Xia Lei picked up a glass of red wine from the serving tray as he said quietly, “In Ahn Geungan’s study. Don’t move yet; we go together.”
“We have 50 minutes left,” warned Qin Xiang.
“I know. Go to that corridor first and wait for me,” said Xia Lei.
Qin Xiang nodded and walked off.
Xia Lei noticed that Qin Xiang was wearing the uniform of a hotel, and the servers in the hall were all wearing similar uniforms. This was how Qin Xiang managed to sneak in. A home chef would find it difficult to tackle a banquet on his own no matter which family hosted the event, and have a lack servers, so this work was usually outsourced.
Qin Xiang was in, so was Long Bing and Tang Bo-Chuan in too? Xia Lei’s eyes darted around the hall, and he spotted Tang Bo-Chuan.
Tang Bo-Chuan had an arm around a Korean beauty and they were chatting and laughing; he was poised and at ease. He had some makeup on which altered his face somewhat but it was not obvious.
Xia Lei abruptly remembered something Tang Yu-Yan had said. She said that Tang Bo-Chuan was popular in the South Asia, Japanese and Korean regions, and that he was mainly in charge of these regions in Bureau 101 too. From his relaxed attitude, it gave one the impression that this was his stage.
Xia Lei did not see Long Bing but he could guess that she must be in charge of backup support and retreat.
All the players were in position, and all there was to do was to open that secured door and take the sword of Attila.
Xia Lei put down his wineglass and walked towards the doorway of the dining hall.
“Mr Xia!” called Ahn Suhyeong all of a sudden.
Xia Lei felt a headache coming on but he turned to face him with a smile. “What is it, Mr Ahn?”
“Do you know swordplay?” Ahn Suhyeong walked over with scorn in his eyes.
“Swordplay?” Xia Lei shook his head. “No,”
“Don’t be modest, Mr Xia. I heard from others that you practice martial arts. How can you not know swordplay when you learn martial arts? Are you afraid of losing?”
“I really don’t know how. I’m sorry, I can’t play with you,” said Xia Lei.
“So you really are worried about losing. Haha! You’re too much of a coward, aren’t you?” Ahn Suhyeong took the opportunity to poke fun at Xia Lei.
With Xia Lei’s skills, one - no, five Ahn Suhyeongs were no match for him but he had less than 50 minutes left and couldn’t waste that time here. So he did not retort, no matter how Ahn Suhyeong provoked and ridiculed him.
Shentu Tian-Yin walked over at that moment and said to Xia Lei in a low voice, “Why are you having stage fright? Fencing is an aristocratic sport here in Korea, and also a chance to show off one’s bearing. I’d like to see you beat him.”
She was making things worse. Xia Lei’s headache grew worse.
Several guests looked over and whispered amongst themselves. Some were guessing at Xia Lei’s identity while some wondered if there was any bad blood between Xia Lei and Ahn Suhyeong. Some also wondered at Shentu Tian-Yin’s role in the two men’s relationship.
Xia Lei was going to think of an excuse to refuse when Tang Bo-Chuan’s voice suddenly came from over the receiver in his ear. “You’ll arouse his suspicions if you leave now. Agree, and get defeated, then you’ll get your excuse for leaving.”
He was the tactical planner indeed, maintaining his calm in this sort of setting. There wasn’t much time left but he was still able to stay cool.
Tang Bo-Chuan’s reminder improved Xia Lei’s impression of him. He smiled. “Sure, let’s play.”
Ahn Suhyeong smiled too. “I’ll have someone fetch the protective gear.”
“No need for protective gear. Just two foils would do,” said Xia Lei.
“Hm?” Ahn Suhyeong sneered, “I was last season’s fencing champion, you know. You’ll get hurt if we don’t use protective gear.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. Just bring the foils here.” Xia Lei seemed to have a card up his sleeve.
One of Ahn Suhyeong’s bodyguards quickly brought two heavy foils used in fencing and gave one to Ahn Suhyeong and the other to Xia Lei. The blades were steel but the points were dull. They would injure someone but not kill.
The guests opened up a space for the two of them to duel more conveniently.
Ahn Geungan gave two barks of laughter, and said imperiously, “My Ahn ancestors were warriors. Looks like the blood of warriors flows in our Suhyeong too. Suhyeong, that man is a guest. You have to take it easy and not harm a guest.”
“I know,” said Ahn Suhyeong graciously.
Shentu Tian-Yin drew close to Xia Lei’s ear and said in a low voice, “Beat him for me.”
Xia Lei paused, then gave a soft grunt of acknowledgement though he laughed wryly to himself. He understood that she wanted him to sweep the floor with Ahn Suhyeong and take his arrogance down a peg or two but this duel was one which he was determined to lose from the start. What she wanted, he could not give.
“Are you left-handed, Mr Xia?” Ahn Suhyeong noticed that Xia Lei held the foil with his left hand.
Xia Lei spoke lightly, “Is the most powerful thing about Korean fencers their mouths?”
“Humph!” Ahn Suhyeong snorted, and suddenly lunged at Xia Lei.
He was quick and his movements smooth, but he was like the tortoise in ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ in Xia Lei’s eyes. Every movement of his, from his preparation in drawing his foil, to thrusting his foil forward, all of his bodily movements had been seen by Xia Lei’s left eye and nothing was left out.
If Xia Lei took a stab at Ahn Suhyeong now, he would just need to move his hand once and it would all be over. His speed was easily twice that of Ahn Suhyeong but he did not do so. He raised his hand to block, and seemed to just barely stop Ahn Suhyeong’s advance.Previous Chapter Next Chapter