AS you have seen I am telling my tale truthfully, leaving out nothing, not even the most embarrassing details, and I will continue in the same fashion by freely admitting that a number of purses and a pearl necklace had somehow fallen into my pockets as I had made my way through the crowds, clutching my begging bowl with a pair of fake hands. I had a use for the pearl necklace. I was rather disappointed to find no more than twenty or thirty gold pieces in the purses, but I also had the thug's jade earring, which was why I had sliced off his ear, and I dropped it on the counter.    1
  "A lovely thing," I said.    2
  "Trash," sneered One-Eyed Wong.    3
  "Cheap Imitation jade," scoffed Fat Fu.    4
  "Worst earring I ever saw," said One-Eyed Wong. "How much?"    5
  "It is yours for a song," I said. "Meaning an elegant suit of clothes, the use of a palatial palanquin, bearers - suitably attired, of course - and a goat."    6
  One-Eyed Wong did some mental addition.    7
  "No goat," he said.    8
  "But I must have a goat."    9
  "This is not that good an earring."    10
  "It does not have to be that good a goat."    11
  "No goat."    12
  "But you not only get an earring, you also get the ear which is still attached to it!"    13
  This added a new dimension. One-Eyed Wong and Fat Fu bent over the counter and examined the bloody ear with great interest.    14
  "This is not a very good ear," One-Eyed Wong said after due deliberation.    15
  "It is a terrible ear," said Fat Fu.    16
  "Absolutely the worst ear I ever saw," said One-Eyed Wong. "Besides what use is it?"    17
  I pointed to the thug, who was still sniffling and mopping blood, and said:    18
  "Look at that vile creature. Imagine the filth that has been whispered into his ugly ears. Now: we will assume that you have an enemy."    19
  "Enemy," said One-Eyed Wong.    20
  "He is a wealthy man, with a country estate."    21
  "Estate," said Fat Fu.    22
  "A stream flows through that estate."    23
  "Stream," said One-Eyed Wong.    24
  "It is midnight," I whispered. "You climb the fence and cleverly elude the dogs. Silent as a shadow you slip to the top of the stream, and you take this revolting ear from your pocket and dip it into the water. Words of such vileness will flow forth that you will poison the fish for miles! Cattle and oxen will drink from the stream and drop dead on the spot! Lush fields of grain irrigated by the stream will wither into bleak desolation! Your enemy's little children will bathe in the stream and acquire leprosy! And all for the price of a goat."    25
  "Ten thousand blessings upon the mother who brought such a boy into the world!" roared Fat Fu, while One-Eyed Wong wiped his eyes with a filthy handkerchief and sniffled: "Sold."    26
  We made quite a splendid little procession as we paraded through the streets. One-Eyed Wong led the way as major domo, resplendent in robes of purple, with a golden girdle. Fat Fu was elegantly yet simply attired in the fashion of the upper class nursemaids who invariably accompany effete young lords. She rode beside me on the palanquin. "The heat," I moaned. "The stench. The noise." Fat Fu patted my hand and purred, "There there, we shall find a place to stop and rest." As we approached the house I had noted earlier, with the thirty-two statues of the Heavenly Ministry of Wealth propped outside the door, Fat Fu acquainted me with my target.    27
  "Miser Shen owns six different houses in six different cities, eight flourishing businesses, one carriage, one sedan chair, one horse, ten savage guard dogs, three cows, twenty chickens, seven half-starved servants, and one young and beautiful concubine named Pretty Ping. He acquired all of them by foreclosing mortgages. Pretty Ping owns one cheap dress, one cheap coat, one cheap hat, one pair of cheap boots, one pair of cheap sandals, one cheap tin ring, one cheap tortoise shell comb, and enough humiliation to last fifty lifetimes," said Fat Fu.    28
  "I shall do my best to enliven her miserable existence," I said. "Wong, shoot our pigeon down."    29
  One-Eyed Wong banged on the door with a gold-tipped staff until it opened and Miser Shen stuck his unlovely head out.    30
  "A thousand blessings have descended upon you, for Lord Li of Kao is weary and has condescended to rest in your miserable hovel!" bellowed One-Eyed Wong.    31
  "Eh?" said Miser Shen.    32
  I was elegantly attired in a tunic of sea-green silk secured by a silver girdle with a border of jade. The jeweled pendants that dangled from my fine tasseled hat tinkled faintly in the breeze, and I raised anguished aristocratic eyes toward Heaven as I languidly waved my gold-spattered Sze-ch'uen fan.    33
  "The heat," I wailed. "The stench. The noise!"    34
  "Our lord must rest!" Fat Fu cried angrily. She pointed to Miser Shen, and said to One-Eyed Wong, "Pay him something, booby!"    35
  One-Eyed Wong opened a bulging purse and grandly placed a glittering gold piece in Miser Shen's hand.    36
  "Eh?" said Miser Shen.    37
  "Give the knave two gold pieces, since Lord Li of Kao shall also require a suite for his goat," said Fat Fu.    38
  Miser Shen trotted out to the street and gaped at the mangy goat that was tied behind the palanquin, and at the fellow with a bloodstained bandage around his head who pushed a wheelbarrow load of garbage and who kept whimpering: "My ear."    39
  "Eh?" said Miser Shen.    40
  "Give the silly old fool three gold pieces!" snapped Fat Fu. "What does money mean to Lord Li of Kao?"    41
  Miser Shen gaped at the three glittering gold pieces in his hand. He bit them. They were real.    42
  "Your master must be made of gold!" he gasped.    43
  "No," One-Eyed Wong said absent-mindedly as Lord Li of Kao and the mangy goat marched grandly through Miser Shen's front door. "But his goat is."    44
  "Eh?" said Miser Shen.    45
  I waited until I felt a pair of little pig eyes peer at me through a crack in the curtains. Then I fed my goat a shovelful of garbage. This was followed by a pint of castor oil, and shortly an appalling stench arose. I delicately raked through the mess on the floor with a pair of silver tongs, and extracted the two gold coins that had been concealed inside a fish head. I was not pleased.    46
  "What! Only two gold coins?" I cried. "Miserable beast, do not arouse the wrath of Lord Li of Kao!"    47
  I gave Miser Shen time to recover from his swoon, and then I fed my goat another shovelful of garbage and another pint of castor oil. Another appalling stench arose, and this time I extracted four gold coins from the mess.    48
  "What! Only four gold coins? Insolent animal, you know very well that Lord Li of Kao requires four hundred pieces of gold per day in order to live in the style to which he is accustomed!"    49
  After Miser Shen regained consciousness I tried again.    50
  "Six? Six pieces of gold!" I squawked. "Cretinous creature, have you never heard of geometric progression? Two, four, eight, not two, four, six! I shall sell you for dog food and return to the Glittering Glades of Golden Grain for a better goat!"    51
  I gave Miser Shen five minutes, and then I strolled out to see if by any odd chance I could find someone interested in buying a goat. It was so easy that it was boring, but I had not forgotten my promise to enliven the existence of Pretty Ping, and she made a lovely picture indeed as she sat up startled in bed.    52
  "Who are you, sir?" she cried.    53
  I bowed politely.    54
  "My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao and there is a slight flaw in my character," I said.    55
  "But what are you doing in my bedchamber!" cried Pretty Ping.    56
  "I am preparing to spend the night," I said.    57
  "But where is Miser Shen?" cried Pretty Ping.    58
  "Miser Shen is preparing to spend the night with a goat," I said.    59
  "A goat?"    60
  "A very expensive goat."    61
  "A very ex ... but what are you doing?"    62
  "I am undressing."    63
  "I shall scream!" cried Pretty Ping.    64
  "I sincerely hope so," I said, as I clasped the pearl necklace I previously mentioned around her lovely throat.    65
  "Help," said Pretty Ping.    66
  I had left enough gold concealed in the garbage to keep Miser Shen occupied all night, or so I thought, and since we had plenty of time we decided to warm up by playing Fluttering Butterflies, since that is a splendid way to become acquainted with one's partner, so to speak.("Eat!" screamed Miser Shen from the room below.) After a leisurely discussion of relative merits we decided to proceed with the Kingfisher Union, because it is impossible to perform the Kingfisher Union without becoming close friends. ("Gold!" screamed Miser Shen.) We paused for a cup of wine before cementing our friendship with Phoenix Sporting in the Cinnabar Crevice. ("Eat!" screamed Miser Shen.) By the time we had galloped through Hounds of the Ninth Day of Autumn we were practically soulmates. ("Gold!" screamed Miser Shen.) But I had underestimated Miser Shen, and it was barely midnight when my pigeon began to suspect that he had been plucked.    67
  "What on earth is that appalling stench, most perfect and penetrating of partners?" said Pretty Ping.    68
  "I rather believe that it marks the approach of Miser Shen, 0 beauty beyond compare," I sighed as I strapped on my moneybelt and stepped into my trousers.    69
  "And what is that angry noise, most tantalizingly tender of tigers?" said Pretty Ping.    70
  "I rather believe that Miser Shen is arming his servants with clubs, 0 rarest of rose petals," I sighed as I donned tunic, hat, sandals, and gold-spattered Sze-ch'uen fan.    71
  "Buddha protect me! What is that ghastly thing oozing obscenely through the doorway!" howled Pretty Ping.    72
  "I rather believe that it is a mound of goat shit," I sighed, "beneath which you will find Miser Shen. Farewell, O seduction of the universe!" I yelled, and I dove headfirst through the window.


A Bridge of Birds - The Original Draft, copyright 1999, Barry Hughart