The news of the Paramount Hall opening had already spread throughout the streets and alleys of Shanghai, just after the holiday season.
Shanghai was a place where hidden dragons and crouching tigers resided, and those who could stand firm here were not ordinary people.
Whether they worked in the government or on the streets, sometimes you could come across someone who seemed ordinary and unremarkable, blending in with the crowd. But perhaps their uncle's wife's second cousin had some incredible connections.
However, being able to open a dance hall in Shanghai was even more extraordinary.
Otherwise, today a small gangster would come to collect protection fees, and tomorrow some police officers would come looking for trouble, and the business would not be able to continue.
Opening a dance hall is no easy feat, let alone one as grand as the Paramount Hall.
On its opening day, Mayor Wu himself gave a speech and even the Qing Gang bosses came to show their support.
Anyone with a discerning eye could tell that this owner had connections in both the black and white worlds, and causing trouble would only lead to a bloody end.
But the name Paramount Hall was too foreign for the common folk to remember, so it was replaced with the catchy and easy-to-pronounce name of "Bailemen".
Even the wealthy young ladies who had returned from studying abroad couldn't be bothered to remember its original pronunciation and joined in with the crowd in calling it Bailemen.
Meanwhile, Yue Dingtang was away on a three-day business trip to Nanjing.
In these past three days, Ling Shu has been like a bird released from its cage.
Today, he made plans to have dinner and go dancing with Cheng Si, and tomorrow he showed up uninvited at Yue Dingtang's house to mooch a meal. Even though Yue Dingtang wasn't there, the servants couldn't possibly turn him away.
With Ling Shu around, the house was never lonely. Ling Shu felt completely at ease and didn't have the habit of eating in silence.
He chatted with the old housekeeper about the latest gossip while eating. The old housekeeper really liked Ling Shu.
Although the food at Yue Dingtang's house wasn't as good as when the owners were present, the old duck soup and scallion oil noodles were still the same.
Without Yue Dingtang constantly probing and hiding his true intentions, Ling Shu was able to relax completely. He enjoyed his days in ease and comfort, even humming a little tune before going to sleep.
Miss Zhen's birthday banquet was held at the newly opened Bailemen.
When Ling Shu arrived in the evening, the entrance was already bustling with cars and people.
The line of cars stretched from the front gate all the way to the back, and the doorman responsible for greeting guests was bending over so much that his back couldn't straighten and his hands had gone numb.
This showed just how many guests there were, and gave a glimpse into Miss Zhen's social connections.
Compared to others who made grand entrances, Ling Shu appeared low-key and unassuming.
He didn't arrive in a car, didn't bring a gift, and came empty-handed, almost to the point of being shabby. Fortunately, his face was still pleasing to the eye.
After the Zhen family verified his invitation, they let him in.
Since its construction, Ling Shu had never visited this place. Passing by on a regular day, one could only see the magnificent exterior, shining and glamorous.
It was assumed that the interior would not be any less impressive. But upon entering, one would realize that it was a whole new world.
Under the decoration of colorful glass bulbs, the large dance floor sparkled and shone. This was the only dance hall in all of Shanghai with a spring floor.
Many people took pride in being able to come here and dance, even the tips were of a different level compared to other places.
Various small and medium-sized dance floors were scattered around the central large pool.
Usually, they were reserved separately, but today, the entire Bailemen was serving only one person.
That person was Zhen Congyun.
Dressed in a suit and leather shoes, with a pleasant fragrance emanating from their clothes and a dignified demeanor, the people invited by the Zhen family were naturally of high status and there was no chance of any poor, sneaky person slipping in, nor any chance of a wanted criminal being mistakenly recognized here.
Ling Shu was quite interested in this and thought to himself that he was probably the most destitute person in the room.
He took a glass of champagne and hid in a corner, enjoying himself as if he were a recluse observing the world, with a sense of pleasure that others could not understand.
If Yue Dingtang were here, he would have realized that Ling Shu was just being lazy.
Miss Zhen, the protagonist, had not yet appeared, and guests continued to arrive.
"Hey! Ling Shu?!"
His shoulder was suddenly tapped.
Ling Shu turned around and was surprised to see his old classmate Lin Dingkang, whom he had met at the consulate banquet last time.
"How did you end up here?" Lin Dingkang looked incredulous, but quickly realized his question was inappropriate and laughed, "Well, well, well, Ling Shu, absence makes the heart grow fonder!"
Lin Dingkang was a translator at the consulate, and although he wasn't quite qualified to receive an invitation on his own, there was no problem with coming in with the Americans.
Since Ling Shu was able to attend the consulate banquet with Yue Dingtang last time, attending Miss Zhen's birthday banquet was naturally not a big problem.
He naturally assumed that Ling Shu had come with Yue Dingtang.
"Where's Dingtang? Haven't seen him around," Lin Dingkang looked around.
"He went to Nanjing for a meeting, I came alone," Ling Shu replied.
Lin Dingkang half enviously and half jokingly said, "He treats you really well. If I lose my job in the future, I'll come join you guys. You have to put in a good word for me, okay?"
The invitation was personally given by Miss Zhen. Ling Shu saw his misunderstanding but didn't explain. He just smiled and chatted with her.
"You didn't bring a female companion?"
"No, did you? It's okay. The dancers at the Bailemen have all been hired by the Zhen family tonight. They'll dance with the guests later and won't charge any fees. If you like one, just go talk to her. As long as she's willing, even if you don't pay, it's not a problem. Haha!"
Ling Shu suddenly pointed to a group of people coming in at the door.
"That's Zhen family's fourth son, Zhen Ainong, the younger brother of Zhen Congyun's father."
"I meant the two next to him."
Lin Dingkang exclaimed, "It's people from the Japanese Consulate, one is Counselor Sada Mitsuki, and the other I don't know, but he looks like Sada's secretary."
Ling Shu said, "The Zhen family is truly impressive. Not only did they invite people from the Consulate to celebrate Miss Zhen's birthday, but also the leaders of the Qing Gang. Even if someone from Nanjing comes over later to congratulate Miss Zhen, I wouldn't be surprised."
Lin Dingkang laughed, "Indeed, these people can easily provide us with a year's worth of food just by lifting a finger. Honestly, I didn't expect Miss Zhen's birthday celebration to be so grand. These guests are not easy to invite. I heard that Miss Zhen is still unmarried and has no boyfriend. If she falls in love at first sight tonight, he might become the lucky groom of the Zhen family. That would truly be a life-changing opportunity!"
He talked on and on, only to realize that Ling Shu was not paying attention to him at all. Half of his focus was not even on him. He followed Ling Shu's gaze and looked over.
There was a beautiful woman in a wine-red cheongsam, holding onto the arm of a middle-aged man. The two of them were whispering to each other, their heads almost touching, as if they were intimate.
The woman's appearance was truly outstanding, surpassing most of the same gender here. Many gazes fell on her and lingered for more than three seconds.
"Oh, isn't that He You'an? She's here too? The man next to her is not Shen Shiqi, who is he?"
It was normal for Lin Dingkang to not recognize Mr. Cheng, whom he had never met before. Ling Shu remained silent.
His gaze passed over He You'an and Mr. Cheng, through the bustling crowd, and landed in a corner not far away.
There stood a person. Just like Ling Shu from a few minutes ago, he was alone and didn't communicate with anyone around him.
No one approached him for a chat, as if an invisible barrier separated him from the people around him.
Their position was just a few steps up from the staircase, giving them a sense of superiority without being too conspicuous, perfect for observing and recognizing people.
He saw the person staring in the direction of He You'an, expressionless and not seeming friendly.
The person exuded an aura that was definitely not that of a good person.
"Who is that person?" Ling Shu raised his chin, gesturing for Lin Dingkang to take a look.
"The one standing next to the wine cabinet." Lin Dingkang focused his gaze, "It seems to be someone from Lu Tongcang's side, named... Jiang something?"
"Jiang He." Ling Shu corrected him. Lin Dingkang nodded in agreement, "Yes, Jiang He! He's a ruthless person who kills without blinking an eye. Although he has the trust of Lu Tongcang and has some ability, it's still better to avoid dealing with him if there's no need."
Through the crowd, the other party seemed to feel Ling Shu's gaze on him and looked over in their direction.
Lin Dingkang quickly averted his gaze, turned around, and pretended to drink his wine as if nothing had happened.
However, Ling Shu did not dodge and instead raised his cup in a distant toast to Jiang He.
Jiang He glanced at him coldly and turned away without any response.
"Do you know each other?" Lin Dingkang couldn't help but ask.
"We didn't know each other before, but now we do," Ling Shu shrugged.
Lin Dingkang was speechless and thought he had a big heart.
Out of old classmates' friendship and his good relationship with Yue Dingtang, he reminded Ling Shu once again.
"Do you remember the sensational headless corpse case from last year? It was said that the victim had offended Jiang He, which led to him being beheaded and dismembered by his men. To this day, no one dares to investigate further, and it remains unresolved. He usually follows Lu Tongcang around, responsible for doing all the dirty work that Lu Tongcang can't do himself. He's got blood on his hands, more than you can imagine."
Ling Shu patted his shoulder.
"Don't worry, I understand."
As they spoke, there was a commotion at the door.
Many people looked up and turned towards the source of the disturbance.
First, the gatekeeper cleared the way.
Then, there was a glimmer of starlight and a gorgeous trailing skirt.
Finally, it was Zhen Congyun, who was surrounded by many people and gracefully entered the room.
The crowd automatically made way for her, allowing her to pass through unimpeded and bask in the admiring gazes.
Zhen Congyun was calm and composed, showing no signs of nervousness or shyness. It was clear that she was used to this kind of scene. She walked directly onto the central stage and spoke into the microphone with ease.
"Today is my birthday. Thank you all for coming and I wish you all a good time," she said, snapping her fingers as the band immediately started playing.
The guests remained still, waiting for her to start dancing. She had come alone, surrounded by many young and handsome men. Zhen Congyun was bound to choose one of them.
Those who had come with their female companions were probably regretting it now. The first dance held a different meaning, and many who thought they were qualified couldn't help but show their eagerness on their faces.
One even took the initiative to step forward and extend their hands towards Zhen Congyun.
"Miss Zhen, may I have the honor of inviting you to dance the first dance?" he asked.
Ling Shu knew the person who made the request. He came from a family that had been in the government for several generations, from the late Qing Dynasty to the Beiyang government, and then to the Republic of China. With the Zhen family's status, they were more than a match.
However, Zhen Congyun just smiled at him and did not take his hand.
The man felt a bit embarrassed and had to retract his hand after a moment of hesitation.
There were also many self-confident people who took the initiative to invite Zhen Congyun, including even the leaders of the Qing Gang and government officials.
But Zhen Congyun politely declined all of them.
"Miss Zhen has high standards," Lin Dingkang couldn't help but mutter.
"Choosing one person means offending others. It's better to choose no one and find an outsider that no one dares to resent," Ling Shu smiled. Miss Zhen's ideas were much smarter than the average person's, no wonder she had been her father's secretary.
As soon as he finished speaking, Zhen Congyun walked towards them.