Old Yuan maintained his vacant expression for a good half hour now.
He sat cross-legged on a pile of thatched grass, while the person opposite him swept his dustpan and sat up straight.
"The humble Taoist monk noticed that your forehead is dark and your cheeks show signs of injury. It is said that when the divine light on the forehead is dim, it is not necessarily a widow or a deserted woman, and when the demon-like appearance smiles, it may not be a prostitute or a favored concubine. By observing your appearance, one can predict your fortune and avoid danger. If you follow my advice, you will be close to virtuous people and far from wicked ones, and you will turn bad luck into good luck."
Old Yuan asked, "Who are the virtuous people and who are the wicked ones?"
"The virtuous person," the Taoist monk pointed to himself.
"The wicked one," the Taoist monk pointed to Yue Dingtang, who was cleaning the Guanyin Temple.
Old Yuan pursed his lips and remained noncommittal.
The Taoist robe was old but relatively clean, with a few patches on it. He wore a pair of cotton gray boots and a Nanhua scarf on his head.
If you didn't know any better, you might have thought that a high-ranking Taoist had taken up residence in the Guanyin Temple.
Old Yuan stared at the Taoist's face and suddenly asked, "Where did you get that beard?"
At first glance, it looked pretty convincing, but it was a bit yellowed and dry, as if he hadn't eaten meat in a long time.
The Taoist touched his beard, feeling proud of himself.
"I cut off the beards of those Russian men that Ivanov brought and glued them on with flour paste. How does it look? Isn't it lifelike?"
Old Yuan made a disgusted face. "You glued dead men's beards onto your face?"
Ling Shu touched his own face, regretting that he didn't bring a mirror. With a small mustache on his lips, he felt like he had become more mature and stable. "I may be handsome and charming, loved by all who see me, but I doubt there's anyone in this group of Taoist priests who can match my good looks. Being outstanding makes you stand out, and standing out makes you an easy target. But with a beard to cover my face, and a little ash rubbed on later, I'll look like a local priest."
Old Yuan was speechless. "Do you even know the local dialect? Your accent gives you away!"
Ling Shu replied, "You do, and today I'll cut you some slack. You can be the master, and I'll be your errand boy!"
Old Yuan was disgusted. "I don't want to cut people's hair and use it as a beard!"
Ling Shu shrugged it off. "No problem. You look old enough that people will think you're in your forties or fifties even without a beard."
Old Yuan was so angry that he picked up a rock and threw it at Ling Shu.
As he lifted his hand, the pain in his ribs made him gasp and cry out in agony.
"You see," sighed Ling Shu, "I told you that you have the look of someone who will suffer from broken bones. It's like the saying goes, 'those who bring trouble upon themselves cannot live.' Even a layman like you should know that."
Old Yuan clutched his ribs, too preoccupied with the pain to argue back.
His fingers trembled as he pointed at Ling Shu, unable to form a coherent sentence.
Yue Dingtang walked over. "It's already bright outside, and people will be here soon. We need to prepare," he said.
He had changed into a long robe, a jacket, and a round hat, with his face covered in ash.
Although his eyes were still unnaturally sharp and bright, as long as he didn't look directly at anyone, most people wouldn't notice. The clothes were all ready-made.
When the old master and Old Yuan conspired to temporarily store the goods here, they had already prepared the dry food and clothes, even including women's clothing for the old, middle-aged, and young generations. They had bought hairpins and wigs from the theater troupe, and nothing was lacking.
"Old Yuan, what are the regulations later? You have to tell us," said Ling Shu.
"Where in the world is there an errand boy who is also an apprentice, with a Taoist whisk? Go cool off on the side!" Old Yuan replied irritably, snatching the Taoist whisk from Ling Shu's hand.
He glanced at Yue Dingtang's pocket watch. "In about an hour, which is the auspicious time for Deputy Mayor Jin's mother, he will personally carry the coffin up the mountain to come and pay respects at Guanyin Temple. His public statement is that his father was a devout Buddhist during his lifetime, and the family worshipped Guanyin Bodhisattva at home every day without interruption. On the night of his mother's passing, he dreamed that Guanyin Bodhisattva asked him to bring his mother here for a final visit. He wants to accumulate merit for his mother, so he has not forgotten this matter and is willing to extend the time for his mother's body to be preserved just to come and offer incense to the Bodhisattva."
"At that time, the so-called dream was all fake. When he comes to the main hall to offer incense and pray, I must be there. The coffin will stay in the side hall of Guanyin Temple for about an hour, and you two must put everything in the two boxes under the empty slot below the old lady's body within that hour.
"Although the Japanese are using him, they definitely won't consider him as one of their own. I'm afraid that among the people who come to the temple with him later, there will be officials from the municipal government. Just to be safe, we have to put on a complete show. We can't let anyone suspect us except for Deputy Mayor Jin who already knows.
"After the coffin is loaded onto the train, I will follow the train all the way. The day this thing safely arrives in Beijing is the day I complete my mission and achieve great success."
"There's a problem," Yue Dingtang said. "Those two boxes are not light, and the weight difference between the coffin going up and down the mountain is too great. Not to mention the difficulty of carrying the coffin, even if someone sees the expressions of the coffin bearers struggling, they will definitely become suspicious. How do we solve this?"
Old Yuan said, "I asked Deputy Mayor Jin and he said that the eight people he picked are all very strong. When the time comes, we'll tell him to take some soil from the entrance of Guanyin Temple and put it in the coffin of the old lady for good luck. After you put the treasures in the coffin, then put a layer of thin soil on top."
"Well, that's a solution," Yue Dingtang nodded, accepting the plan.
Old Yuan rubbed his face, "Why do I suddenly feel a little nervous? What if someone is really monitoring Deputy Mayor Jin and I don't sound like a Taoist, and it's easy to slip up?"
Ling Shu straightened his clothes, "Isn't it up to me to smooth things over at this point? If you can't speak, just pretend to be mute and leave everything to me."
Old Yuan: ...Why does he feel even more worried now?
Time waits for no one, and the three of them didn't have time to say much.
Old Yuan quickly changed into an old Taoist robe. It's true, after changing his clothes, his face seemed to magically age five or six years, making him more than qualified to be Ling Shu's master.
Old Yuan felt pretty good about himself, strutting around and imitating Ling Shu's every move.
He held a Taoist whisk like a high and mighty expert, but without a beard, he looked a bit strange.
With no other choice, he pinched his nose and trimmed Zhen Congyun's hair, sticking it to his face like Ling Shu did.
To show his age and experience, he not only had to stick it to his lips, but also to his chin.
The thought of dead people's hair sticking to his face made him feel extremely uncomfortable, but Ling Shu was there to guide him.
"If the paste isn't strong enough, don't use your hands to pull it off. It'll come off easily."
"Hey, even with a beard, you don't look like an expert. You look more like an old farmer. You're far from my level."
"Stop waving that Taoist whisk around, you look ridiculous. Don't think that the Japanese are easily fooled. Some of them have a deeper understanding of Chinese culture than the average person. If you want to be a Taoist priest, you need to look the part. First, recite a passage from the Tao Te Ching with me."
Old Yuan's ears were ringing from listening to him recite.
He wished he could just throw Ling Shu into the coffin with Mrs. Jin and be done with it.
But he had underestimated Ling Shu's power.
Old Yuan soon realized that after all these years, Ling Shu not only talked too much, but he was also a jinx.