A Cruel Romance - Volume 2 - Chapter 5

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Dissent

 

Arimitsu Tsutomu dropped Ho Ji-Ch’ing off at Bai’s residence . Ho Ji-Ch’ing got off the car with a strained smile, which turned into teeth-grinding when he stepped into the courtyard and cursing when he stepped into the house: “Damn it all! What was that all about? How did I get dragged into this?”

Bai Su-Chen was sitting on a couch in the parlour . A novel in hand, he read the book comfortably as he popped chocolate beans into his mouth . He frowned at the other man’s aggressive entrance and profanity . “What’s wrong?”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing strode ahead and flopped down next to him . “What else? Those Japs! Little Uncle, be honest with me . Are you affiliated with them?”

Bai paused for a moment . “I work with them every day . What do you mean, affiliated?”

He waited for Ho Ji-Ch’ing’s reply, but the other man only stared at the plate of colourful jellybeans on the tea table, lost in thought .

“Protection…” he thought to himself . “But what if I insist on not cooperating? If they can actively protect me, they can certainly also… What a cozy little hint! The incident at Dong’an Market was probably arranged by these very Japs!”

He was suddenly furious—so even dogs could insult a tiger on level land! Even a handful of Japs tinier than beans dared to threaten him! If he only had a few men in his hands—he didn’t need that many, a few thousand would be enough—he’d off them all!

But what men did he have? He was a loner whom the Japs played all the way from Peking to Tientsin, who was about to be sent to Jehol and used liked a gun . How was working for Manchukuo any different from working for the Japanese? First a bandit, now a national traitor—what kind of fate was this?

He couldn’t do it! He shook his head at himself . Bandits and traitors were still different in nature . Banditry had little consequence; many men of bandit origin would quickly make it to regimental and divisional commanders once enlisted, and nobody would say a thing . Traitors were different, especially traitors in command of armies . To aid the Japanese against the Chinese—it would be bad, it would be bad both for the State and for himself .

He couldn’t do it! He nodded at himself . He would be careful from now on . As important as patriotism was, his own life was far more invaluable . He’d still focus on diplomacy . Military affairs existed to serve diplomatic affairs, but diplomatic affairs were eternal constants . But with whom should he practice said diplomacy? The Central Government—He’d count himself fortunate if they didn’t kill him . The Japanese Kwantung Army—they likely wouldn’t rest until they’d bundled him off to Jehol .

Wasn’t that splendid . It’d all come back to him!

- : -

Ho Ji-Ch’ing was very displeased . He’d intended to spend his retirement in peace and comfort, but his life was filled with nothing but boredom and frustration . Whatever peace and comfort looked like, he hadn’t seen it yet .

“Chi-Bao…”

Next to him, Bai’s sudden voice startled Ho Ji-Ch’ing out of his rumination .

“What is it?”

Bai lowered his head and seemed a bit embarrassed . “Your hand . Knock it off . ”

Only then did Ho Ji-Ch’ing realise that one of his hands had wandered onto Little Uncle’s thigh and showed signs of inching further upwards .

Lamely, he withdrew his hand and gave a laugh . He was coming up with an explanation when he reconsidered . “What the hell have I got to explain?” he thought to himself . “Might as well lay it on the line and let him know how I feel . It’ll be up to him whether he’s willing—perhaps he will be! It this works out, at least I didn’t come to Tientsin for nothing!”

At the thought, he turned and wrapped his arms around Bai’s waist, resting his chin on the other man’s shoulder . “Little Uncle… I—I really like you . ”

Bai heard blood rush between his ears, but he only patted Ho Ji-Ch’ing on the back and said kindly: “I know . Little Uncle likes you too . ”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing snuggled in and pressed his face against Bai’s, cursing how his height made it impossible for him to latch on to Bai’s like a child . “Not…that kind of like . I like you like you . ”

Sweat began to form on Bai’s head . “Little Ch’i-Bao, how old are you now? And you’re still clinging to me like this? Get off and go get changed . ”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing felt like the conversation had gotten off on the wrong foot; it wasn’t the right tone for a heartfelt confession . He tightened his hold on Bai and wished he could melt against him like a lump of candy . “Little Uncle, I meant… I love you . ”

“All right, all right, I love you too . Why do you smell like Kuantung tobacco? Was somebody smoking a pipe at the party?”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing straightened up and grasped Bai by the shoulders . “Be with me! As long as we don’t talk, nobody will know you’re my uncle!”

Bai was silent for a moment, then gave an abrupt laugh .  “Little one, what are you talking about? Had too much to drink?”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing stared at him with furrowing brows and reddening cheeks .

“Little Uncle…” he began hesitantly and softly . “Don’t—don’t play dumb with me . I meant everything I said . If you’re bothered by how I have no power or prestige at the moment, I can put together a comeback . Once I commit myself to you, there’s no changing my heart . I—“

Before he could finish, Bai surged to his feet and cried: “Hsiao-Feng! Hsiao-Shun! This man is drunk! Come help him up the stairs!”

Seeing his reaction, Ho Ji-Ch’ing’s heart grew chill . The rest of his words got stuck in his throat while a clutter of footsteps stamped their way down the stairs . Feng Guo-Chung was first to arrive . “Ch’i-yeh, did you have too much to drink? Are you all right?”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing stared at Bai with wide eyes . After a long moment, he took Feng’s arm with a pale face and turned away stiffly . “I did have too much to drink,” he said softly . “I’m feeling dizzy . I want to lie down for a bit . ”

Feng had never seen Ho Ji-Ch’ing drink, and taking in his dispossessed state, he didn’t think the man looked drunk . Suspicious, he helped the other men up by the arm: “let’s go . ” He then looked back up . “Hsiao-Shun, I don’t need you here . Go up and make the bed . ”

- : -

Back in his rooms, Ho Ji-Ch’ing sat on his bed with a hollow look and waved Feng Guo-Chung and Hsiao-Shun out .

The door clicked shut and left him in complete silence .

He stood and pulled out a leather trunk underneath the bed . Throwing it open, he picked up the white porcelain urn .

“Bai-Shan . ” He pressed the urn against his lips and gave it a kiss . His heart throbbed airily as blood coursed through his body, its pace so swift that he could barely breathe . “You’re better than him… If you hadn’t died, why would I look for another?”

He sniffled and forced his eyes wide open to stave off tears . “He could have told me straight up that he didn’t want me . Why did he have to play dumb? Bai-Shan, I genuinely wanted to be with him, like I did with you . But he…”

He gave a frosty sigh . “Why did I come back? I came running home all excited, but everyone looked at me as if they saw the devil . Come tomorrow, he’ll be just the same . And now the Japanese have targeted me… If I had known any of this, I might as well have stayed in Luyang and lived for the day until Li Shih-Yao couldn’t tolerate me anymore and shot me dead . I’ll probably go look for you in the underworld then . I know you didn’t love me, you humoured me along at first and couldn’t leave me afterwards . Even though you were always by my side, none of it was by you own choice . But if we could be reborn as man and woman in the next life, would you want us to be husband and wife?”

He undressed and crawled into bed, placing the urn under his pillow . “Bai-Shan, come find me in a dream . Let’s have a chat . I have so much to say and nobody to say it to . ”

- : -

When Bai Su-Ch’en came home the following evening, he discovered that Ho Ji-Ch’ing had already moved out .

Neither of the maids knew where he had moved to . Just when Bai was feeling puzzled, Arimitsu Kiyoshi dropped in .

“Bai-san!” He complained in an exasperated voice . “Why did you drive Ho away?”

Bai was bewildered . “When did I drive him away? I just came back myself and found him gone! Where did he go?”

“Not far . Back to the Astor Hotel . He got two rooms there, him and his two attendants . He was very fond of you, why would he leave without cause?”

Bai snorted . “I have done all I could to appease him . You can’t possibly expect me to emulate that chief of staff who went up in flames!”

Arimitsu stamped his foot . “You keep getting carried away by what that Major-General Li said! Ho isn’t necessarily that horrible! If he was, you’d already be…“

Bai went red in the face . “Arimitsu-kun, do not speak such nonsense! I do not wish to hear it!”

Helping himself to a spot on the couch, Arimitsu took some toffee from the plate on the tea table and shoved it into his mouth . “You are his uncle,” he said as he chewed . “He is fond of you . The two of you could have made the perfect couple and saved us the men to keep an eye on him! But now…!”

Bai darkened his face . “Arimitsu-kun, do you really want to finish that thought? If he likes men, go find him some men! Please do not involve me in this! We are uncle and nephew, and I’m not interested in men! Regardless of what you, the president, or anyone want, I will not be forced to make that sort of compromise!”

Arimitsu knew that although Bai looked softer than toffee on the outside, his hard core had to be subdued by a firm hand . At a time of emergency, Arimitsu didn’t have to time to stay and chitchat . Stuffing a handful of fruit drops into his pocket, he stood and left hurriedly .

- : -

Being a traveler and a diplomat, Arimitsu moved with the utmost urgency and made his way to the Astor Hotel gasping for breath .

Ho Ji-Ch’ing was enjoying a lavish dinner with his companions in one of the private rooms . Seeing that Arimitsu had found him, he gave a polite but cool nod . “Mr . Arimitsu is here to see me? Take a seat and have something to eat . ”

At his words, Feng Guo-Chung played it by ear and called the waiter over for an extra set of plates and chopsticks .

Arimitsu took a seat . He wasn’t in the mood for dinner and asked straight away: “why did Mr . Ho move back here, all of a sudden?”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing poured some water into his bowl of rice and whisked its contents with his chopsticks . “There were too many of us . It was becoming an inconvenience to stay with my uncle . ” He picked up his bowl and gobbled the watery rice down .

Arimitsu rubbed his hands together with a grin . “Ah—I see . But there are many people coming and going at the hotel, a stream of traffic, an endless torrent . If Mr . Ho stays here, safety cannot be guaranteed…”

“Wasn’t the Kwantung Army going guarantee it?”

“Yes, of course . Um…tomorrow . I’ll send some men over tomorrow . ” Arimitsu considered this, his eyes turning skywards . “All right, tomorrow it is!”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing gave a frosty laugh . “You’ll send some men over? Aren’t you a traveler? You’re doubling as a bodyguard now?”

Arimitsu continued to grin . “I am indeed a traveler . I’ve journeyed through many famous mountains and rivers . Manchuria, Sikang, Yunnan, Mongolia… I’ve walked them all . ”

Ho Ji-Ch’ing raised a hand . “I’m done here, please enjoy the rest of your dinner . ” He snatched up a napkin and wiped his mouth, then simply stood and left .

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