1989, Hong Kong, Snapdragon Walled City.
This was a city cloaked by a mysterious shadow. If people looked down from the sky, they would see the entire city in a square shape and the tall buildings were layered and placed densely. It was like a Rubik’s cube built from concrete that settled abruptly in the Kowloon region, New Territories, Hong Kong. It really didn’t fit the loosely placed buildings and modern viaducts around. This huge Rubik’s cube had an area of less than 3 square kilometers but contained more than 500 tall buildings and a population of nearly 30,000. The dense edifices blocked sunlight even if it was summer. Almost ninety-five percent of the city was dark all year and never got to see the sun.
Even people over the sea knew its notoriety. Because of historical issues left from the Qing dynasty, this small city became a black area ruled by no one. None of Beijing, Hong Kong, or the British government had its jurisdiction so that it became a special “autonomous zone”.
Countless drug vendors, casinos, brothels, dog-meat restaurants, and clinics without certificates were hidden in this endless darkness. It was the biggest area for “white flour” to split in the Asia-Pacific region and somewhere for mafia triads to gather and hide.
Xia Liuyi, the top golden hatchet man in Snapdragon Walled City, the “Red Pole*”1 of Xiao Qi Tong*2, always used a pair of azure-dragon knives.
To explain the title of “Red Pole” plainly, it simply meant the head of hatchet men. They were in charge of beating people with a group they led. Their status in a triad was only lower than the “Dragon Head (Mountain Master)” and “Deputy (Deputy Mountain Master)”, and they were in the same status as the “White Paper Fan” who was in charge of finance and the “Straw Sandal” who was in charge of liaison.
Xia Liuyi didn’t become 1st-ranked for his combating skills. Strong and weak people were mixed in Snapdragon Walled City and there were more than a dozen triads. Not to mention the hidden masters in other triads, for instance, in Xiao Qi Tong, his skills had to be placed behind Deputy Xu Ying – who was said to be the descendant of someone who was directly taught Eighteen Subduing Dragon Palms – and ranked the second.
But to talk about golden hatchet men, if he was ranked as the second, no one could be the first.
The reason was simple – in a deadly fight, no one cares about the palm and knife skills and where they were learned. Being cunning and merciless and throwing one’s own life away was the exact essence of triad battles!
Back to the year when Xia Liuyi was eighteen, in a chaotic battle of triads, to save the besieged Dragon Head Hao Chengqing, he killed over forty people with his double knives on his own and created a blood trail that extended three alleyways along. After that, the neighborhood nearby took an entire two days to clean the mince on the walls and floor.
This fight was so-called “Black Children’s Day”. It has been six years since that but people were still enthusiastic to talk about it. There has never been a concept of “Children’s Day” in Hong Kong. Celebrating Children’s Day on June first was a concept from the Chinese mainland. Many citizens in Snapdragon Walled City fled from the mainland, and because of Xia Liuyi’s name, the concept of “June 1st Children’s Day” was known in the city as more and more people talked about it. The gangsters would change their countenance as soon as they heard the name “Liuyi”. The thing that they feared most was to be invited to “spend a Children’s Day” by Boss Liuyi.
Fortunately, this merciless Boss Liuyi was a reasonable man. He was neither bullying nor dominant. In most of the time, he wouldn’t attack someone if he wasn’t insulted. Moreover, he was faithful and obedient to Master Hao Chengqing. Among many Dragon Heads in the city, Hao Chengqing could be considered as a temperate person who took prudent actions. As a result, the edge Xia Liuyi nicely stayed in his sheath and almost never killed uncontrollably.
Boss Liuyi was not only too lazy to fight, in most situations, but he was also even too lazy to carry his dear knives. This day, when he came to the newly opened “Xiao Qi Film Studio” under the name of Xiao Qi Tong, there was a drug consumer Lai Quan carrying his knives for him behind.
Lai Quan lost 20,000 yuan in a casino under the name of Xiao Qi Tong. He tried to welsh and run away and he was gloriously caught back by Boss Liuyi himself. Right now, he has anticipated his bloody, miserable end without a full corpse. He sobbed his face into a mess while he was walking. He didn’t forget to wipe his snots to avoid dropping them onto Boss Liuyi’s knives.
“Boss Liuyi!” The 49er*3 guarded the door lifted his chest, stood straight.
Xia Liuyi took the cigarette he passed, and tilted his head to let the 49er light it.
“Boss little Ma is waiting for you inside.” The 49er reported seriously.
Xia Liuyi glimpsed him, lifted his chin, “Carry him into the studio and guard him well.”
“Got it!” The 49er answered vigorously, turned to kick Lai Quan, “What the heck are you looking at! Go!”
“Any other commands, Boss Liuyi?”
The 49er kicked him once again: “Give the knives back to Boss Liuyi!”
Xia Liuyi walked into the room and closed the door. He sat on the desk, lowered his head, and smoked.
His hench, Little Ma who had a scar on his face and stylishly slicked back his hair, kneeled down and groveled on the floor with a few vicious hatchet men like tigers. Little Ma waited for a long time but didn’t hear any words from him, so he carefully lifted his head to take a look.
“I’ve never seen the one who guarded the door.” Said Xia Liuyi.
“Boss Xu sent him here yesterday, saying he was clever. If you don’t like him, Boss Liuyi, I’ll find an excuse to move him tomorrow!” Little Ma said crisply with a flattering countenance that didn’t fit his fierce appearance at all.
“F*ck, Xu Ying……” Xia Liuyi thought quietly, smoked the cigarette in his lips slowly, “Book a room in Lotus Scent Hotel for tomorrow evening. I wanna have a meal with my Mr. Big.”
The one he called “my Mr. Big” was exactly the Dragon Head of Xiao Qi Tong, Hao Chengqing, people called him “Boss Azure Dragon”.
“Got it! I’ll book it now!” Little Ma sprung at once.
Xia Liuyi dropped the cigarette ash: “You f*cking get back.”
Little Ma groveled back grievously.
Xia Liuyi tapped his toes.
Little Ma’s face was covered by sadness. He put up a thick wooden pole with both hands. The vicious men consciously lowered their bodies, lifted their butts, and gnawed their cuffs.
Xia Liuyi extinguished his cigarette patiently. He threw the sheathes on his waist and back onto the desk, rolled his sleeves, and took the pole.
--And then a ferocious whip started!
Crack! Crack! Crack!
He used half of his strength and whipped these underlings’ butt as red as monkeys’. These muscular men’s faces distorted in pain, but they dared not shout out and gnawed their sleeves with their lives. They could only cry for their moms and dads in their minds. At the end, when Xia Liuyi thought that was enough, he threw the pole away casually and sat back onto the desk. Little Ma struggled to get up, limped, and lit his cigarette.
“Realized your mistakes?” Asked Xia Liuyi.
“Yes! Yes!” Little Ma answered in a hurry, and the men followed him to nod quickly.
“What are they?”
With the cigarette on his lips, Xia Liuyi turned around to get the pole again.
Little Ma saw the danger and jumped forward to hold Xia Liuyi’s thigh, making a miserable, lingering scream, “Boss Liuyi! You can’t beat us anymore! We will be disabled if you do!”
Xia Liuyi slammed his bloating butt for one more time mercilessly! Little Ma screamed pathetically. The men all turned their faces to avoid such a scene.
“What the he*l I raise you crap for?” He finally opened his honorable mouth to scold, “you can’t even catch a f*cking person like Lai Quan and you need me to get him for myself?”
“Boss Liuyi,” Little Ma covered his butt with the miserable expression, “I can’t understand. Lai Quan only owed us 20,000 yuan. Why’s that necessary for us to make a big deal to catch him…”
“You don’t understand!” Xia Liuyi hit his messed slicked-back hair, “Your f*cking brain was on your ass! Of course you don’t understand!”
Little Ma covered the lump on his head, aching and aggrieved.
Xia Liuyi sat back with a cold face, “Do you know Lai Quan has a younger sister?”
“Yes, the Third Sis Lai, a well-known who*e.”
“What is she doing recently?”
“Uh, I heard she was sleeping with the head of He Sheng Gang, ‘Fat Qi’.”
“My Mr. Big wants to open a nightclub in Portland Street in Kowloon, which is next to Yau Ma Tei. Yau Ma Tei was under He Sheng Gang’s control, so unavoidably they would bring us troubles. Since I’ve caught Lai Quan, Fat Qi has to call my Mr. Big for his brother-in-law. I always listen to my Mr. Big, so I should give the person back at once. Fat Qi now owes my Mr. Big, shouldn’t he help us with the nightclub……”
“Oh! Ohhhh!” Little Ma understood everything and shouted out to show he really got this now.
Xia Liuyi whipped his butt again, “Use your brain for a bit!”
“I will! I’ll do it! I’ve tried to use it for these three years following Boss Liuyi, seriously!” Little Ma covered his butt and flattered in a moment.
Little Ma got up obediently, found his pole back, and was running away. Reaching the door, he remembered something and came back in a sad expression again: “Boss Liuyi, there’s something about the new film.*4”
At the beginning of this year, Xia Liuyi and the “White Paper Fan” Cui Dongdong were commanded to found this “Xiao Qi Film Studio”, which was planned to launder money for the “parent company”. Cui Dongdong was in charge of running accounts. Xia Liuyi, as a “general manager”, had to make a few films for real to make a few efforts on pretending, so he would come here to check frequently. They had already shot a few X-rated films and the outcome was not too bad. Now, Azure Dragon wants to change the targeting market and produce a serious film about a mafia love story.
Xia Liuyi gave him a sharp glimpse. Little Ma started to shiver at once, “No, no, no! Not a serious thing! We had a director already! I found the popular male star Liu Xiaode as our male lead. He lost 500,000 in Boss Xu’s casino. For the female lead, Master said our sister-in-law*5 would take it. But the director can only make X-rated films and has only produced things like A woman Like Fire, Midnight Dining Hall, and Mistress in Dust……He said he needed a screenwriter who could write serious stories, b-but, I know no screenwriters……”
“Can’t you f*ck just find someone who can read and write! If you can’t write it yourself!”
Little Ma’s face distorted: “I didn’t even graduate from middle school, Boss Liuyi!”
“Then find someone who graduated!” He kicked.
Little Ma screamed and ran away. He was called back again when he got a few steps away.
Xia Liuyi lowered his head, smoking. He turned back to the pretending lazy look, thinking back: “There was someone who got his way into a college two years ago. His family lit firecrackers at that time. Look for him.”
A group of vicious men blocked the road with bloating butts. They met He Chusan coming home from self-studying at ten thirty-five at night. Covered his head with a sack, they took fifteen minutes to carry him back to the “company”.
Who was He Chusan? He was the first modern college student in the history of Snapdragon Walled City, which was as significant as a top-score student studied his way out in ancient time*.6
His mother Shen Peipei was a rare beauty in the walled city. Unfortunately, her beautiful eyes were so blind that she went out with a little mafia hatchet with neither power nor money. She said it was her true love, but actually, it was because he looked cool. Their love was hot like fire and beauty Shen got pregnant before getting married. In the fourth month of her pregnancy, the little hatchet was hacked into pieces in a dark alley. Lucky he ended up with a whole head and could be recognized to be a comfort.
Beauty Shen did not accept this comfort. She jumped into the sea to kill herself with the infant in her womb. Haven’t sunk for a long time, a passed by certificate-less dentist got her out. The dentist’s last name is He. He didn’t look good but was an honest, obedient person. His wife ran away with someone else, and he didn’t mind being an easy-daddy for someone. Beauty Shen lay in Dentist He’s clinic in depression for six months. She passed away on the day she gave birth to her kid. Before she died, she held the hand of Dentist He, said this kid shall have your last name He, never let him get involved with the mafias.
Dentist He didn’t even have time to find a wife. He did his best to raise his little easy-son up. Because he was born on Chu San*7, so he was named He Chusan with a childhood name a-san and a nickname called Indi*n a-sir.8 The little Indi*n a-sir was a nice kid. He never fought with others even if he was laughed at, joked on, flirted on, or beaten. Gradually, he became the pure, elegant weird guy with good grades and morality in Snapdragon Walled City. This weird guy finished his education from primary school to high school with scholarships and was eventually accepted by Long Gang Institution of Technology, bringing an extremely creepy light to this sunless Snapdragon Walled City.
When Dentist He heard this thing, his excitement made him lit firecrackers on the street for his son to let the whole walled city know. It was true that his action showed his family’s glory. However, unfortunately, his son’s whole life was ended on these firecrackers.
On this night that tragedy fell, He Chusan just spent a day putting countless formulas in English into his brain. While he walked on the familiar dim alleyway with his little backpack, his mouth and nose were covered abruptly and his eyes were covered with darkness. He “flew” up in a daze!
He didn’t know how long this bumpy flight lasted. Again, abruptly, he saw bright light!
He saw the cool guy in front of him at once, who wore a tight black vest, showing his arms and shoulder with a healthy tan and handsome muscles. His long legs were tightly covered by jeans. This cool guy was born with a handsome but cold figure and the eyes like stars. This should be a face with natural alienation, but his countenance was easy and lazy. He was eating beef entrails and watching TV with full concentration.
The black-and-white television was playing The Godfather. Marlon Brando stood by a bed with a cigar in his mouth, speaking some ambiguous English sentences. To He Chusan, who grew up in a slum and has only seen TVs in windows of malls, this was too novel. He nailed his attention into it immediately!
The two guys watched it concentratedly for a while. Xia Liuyi, who knew not many characters and could not follow the subtitles finally got mad, “Little Ma!”
A scar-faced youth with oily slicked-back hair lumped from the room next to them, “Hey! Boss Liuyi!”
“Where’s the Chinese dub?”
“Ah, that’s all for this film. It wasn’t dubbed!”
“Haha.” Little Ma grinned to please him.
“Yes!” Little Ma left fast.
“Yes!” He came back fast.
“Who’s this?” Xia Liuyi lifted his chin.
“The screenwriter that you asked me to caught this afternoon.” Little Ma lifted his chest in pride.
Xia Liuyi checked He Chusan and frowned, “He……is in adulthood?”
“Let Boss Liuyi know your age!” Little Ma changed his expression in just a moment and shouted fiercely.
“Twenty-one.” He Chusan said obediently.
Little Ma kicked on his knee backward. He Chusan yelled in pain and fell down, “F*ck your twenty-one! You look only sixteen! Be honest!”
He Chusan lowered his head and tried to get his backpack. Little Ma thought he wanted to find something to fight and kicked him two meters away, and lifted him up to beat him. Xia Liuyi stopped him.
He Chusan’s hand was on his kicked chest. He coughed terribly and took his ID card out from his bag with his shaking hand. Little Ma snatched it and looked at the birthday on it. He was exactly twenty-one years old.
“F*ck!” Little Ma scolded. This lad’s arms and legs were as thin as chickens’ and his face was so childish. Can he really be twenty-one years of age?
He Chusan remained silent with his hand on his chest. He knew that the triads were unreasonable and he hasn’t known the reason for them to catch him over here yet. Speaking nothing would be the safest choice for him.
Xia Liuyi waved his hand and eventually drove Little Ma away. He lifted his chin to let He Chusan sit down and he turned his head, continued to watch the TV with full concentration.
He Chusan bore the pain for a while, and then his attention was taken by the TV again.
The two people watched it together with no words for almost ten minutes. Missing the subtitles again, Xia Liuyi frowned: “What did he say?”
“He said ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’.”
Xia Liuyi gave a whistle and made an expression with full agreement.
“What about this one?”
“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
This time, Xia Liuyi lifted his brows.
Watched it for another while, he took up a stick of beef entrails and started eating again, and he pushed the plate towards He Chusan.
“I’m fine. Thank you.” Said He Chusan.
“Puk gaai*!9 Eat it if Boss Liuyi let you do so!” The big man guarding the door suddenly yelled like thunder.
But Xia Liuyi lifted his leg and kicked the entire plate of beef entrails to him, “You are too noisy! F*ck off!”
The men f*cked off quickly.
Xia Liuyi turned his head to the TV again, casually passed the surviving half stick of beef entrails to He Chusan. Hesitated, He Chusan dared not pick it up. Xia Liuyi stared at the TV and waved the stick to him. “Have it.” He said amiably.
He Chusan was like a stray puppy who lost his way into a mansion, being scolded by the bad servants, and then received a gentle touch from the householder. He took the beef entrails obediently and made a bite. He found this was the taste of the Fat Sis Snack Shop below his dad’s clinic.
Hasn't experienced much in this society, He Chusan thought this mafia boss was very different from those he had ever seen or heard – young and handsome, mild in attitude and amiable. He might be reasonable.
Without being noticed, he changed the way he sat for a bit with ease. He thought there was a chance for him to leave here safely tonight.
He ate the beef entrails and read the subtitles. Eventually, he turned off the TV under Xia Liuyi’s instructions. This mafia boss who is “mild in attitude” began talking to him lazily: “Do you know why you are here?”
He Chusan shook his head obediently.
“Have you ever heard of ‘screenwriter’?”
He shook his head again.
Xia Liuyi explained to him very patiently: “I wanna produce a film, and I need you to write a story for it. Give it to me in three days.”
He Chusan blinked his eyes and finally understood. However, as a youth who grew up in a colony with only English formulas in his head, he didn’t know how to write it at all.
“I’m studying economics……” He said.
--I can’t write stories.
Haven’t finished his sentence yet, Little Ma who went out previously came in with curses: “Boss Liuyi! I called the Third Sis Lai for money and she said she’d renounced her brother. Lai Quan’s life was none of her business!”
Xia Liuyi raised his eyebrows: “Uh-huh?”
“F*ck, how dare his sister hung me up!” Little Ma added angrily.
But Xia Liuyi was still at leisure, tilted his head and lit a cigarette, he said: “Bring him in.”
Lai Quan with his face covered by bruises was lifted in within ten seconds.
He Chusan’s whole back was under cold sweat. He watched Xia Liuyi, who had an easy face and a cigarette between his lips, got the chair and beat Lai Quan out of humankind’s shape! After that Xia Liuyi let someone press him onto the desk, take off his socks, clog his mouth, and take out his fingernails with pliers one by one.
“You don’t know what to do? Do you need Boss Liuyi to think for you?” Xia Liuyi pressed the head of the cigarette onto Lai Quan’s bloody fingers, “One finger for thinking for yourself; three fingers for Boss Liuyi to think for you.”
“Whoowhoowhoooo!” Lai Quan gnawed the smelly socks and kept crying, shook his head as if he wanted to shake it off.
Xia Liuyi waved his hand. Little Ma came in front and took out the smelly socks.
“I, I shall call my old mother*10 and beg her. Let her beg my sister.” Lai Quan said weakly with his broken voice.
“Good kid,” Xia Liuyi patted his head in favor, “one finger.”
Little Ma went to him and did it crisply! All people could hear was simply a terrible yell in pain.
He Chusan’s young and delicate heart was crushed into pieces together with his soul by this final yell! He watched a few strong men drag the worn-out Lai Quan away with his own mind faraway. Little Ma wrapped the finger and told an underling to send it to Lai Quan’s old mother. He cleaned the bloody desk flatteringly and ran away at once.
Xia Liuyi sat back to the desk and put up his long legs: “What did ya say?”
He Chusan changed his words in astonishment: “I’m studying economics……”
“I’m good at writing stories.”
“Great, good kid.”
- *You can check https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triad_(organized_crime) for a detailed Hong Kong triad structure. ↑
- *Tong means a gathering place here. Xiao Qi means valiant cavalry. Xiao Qi Tong, the gang that Xia Liuyi was in, had a name meaning “where valiant cavalries gather” ↑
- *An underling in Hong Kong black society. ↑
- *Because Hong Kong was colonized by Britain and many British habits would appear later in this book, I will try to translate this book into British English words to make it organized. ↑
- *Triad guys consider people who have higher statuses as big brothers, so here “sister-in-law” stands for Master Azure Dragon’s wife. ↑
- *In Chinese ancient times it was extremely glorious to be a top-score student because people with knowledge had the highest social status at that time. ↑
- *Chu San is the third day of Chinese New Year (according to the lunar calendar). ↑
- Indian a-sir was a slang in Chinese that appeared in the last century. Some Indians from British colonies served as policemen in Shanghai at that time. A-sir is a policeman in the Shanghai dialect. Because Indians treated Chinese citizens badly, people started to call them “Indian a-sir” as a satire. A-sir was written as a-san in Chinese and that’s why Chusan’s nickname was “Indian a-sir”. ↑
- *Back in the 19th century Puk gaai was a Cantonese curse word that means “you’ll die on the street with no one to take your corpse”. It’s a curse word that emerged from triad life since fightings were so often back then. It’s still used today but fewer people know its original meaning. ↑
- * “Old mother/father” is a Cantonese way to say mother/father ↑
TN (updated): Do not use the slang "Indian a-sir" if you are not Indian. It sounds racist today since it's a slang invented as a sarcasm. It will be censored in this book. Thanks for our dear editor Mio Rio's suggestion!