While Qian Long went hungry, the official administration in Hangzhou was turned upside down. News of the Emperor's disappearance had not yet leaked out but the whole city had been searched. All exits from Hangzhou by both land and water were heavily guarded, and several thousand "suspected bandits" had been arrested until every prison was full. The local officials were very worried, but they also took advantage of the situation to seize rich businessmen and merchants and extort large sums of money from them.
Fu Kangan, Commander Li and Bai Zhen jumped about like ants on a hot plate, completely at a loss for what to do.
Early on the morning of the third day, Fu Kangan called a meeting in the provincial governor's residence. Glum-faced and powerless, they argued about whether or not the Empress should be informed. But none of them dared consider the consequences once such a report had been sent.
As they sat gripped by indecision, one of the Imperial Bodyguards, named Rui, ran in, his face deathly pale, and whispered into Bai Zhen's ear.
Bai Zhen went white and stood up. "How could this happen?" he demanded. Fu Kangan hurriedly asked what was wrong.
"The six bodyguards standing guard outside the Emperor's bed chamber have been killed," Rui said. Far from being alarmed, Fu was pleased by this news.
"Let us go and see," he said. "This event must be connected with His Majesty's disappearance. We may even find some clues."
They hurried to the bed chamber that had been set aside in the Governor's residence for Qian Long. Six corpses lay at all angles around the room. Some had had their eyes gouged out, some had gaping holes in their chests: All had died horribly.
"These six brothers were good fighters," said Bai Zhen. "How could they have been finished off without being able to even utter a sound?"
They stared in open-mouthed horror, incapabale of deciphering the scene. Bai Zhen examined the corpse. The assassins had moved so fast, some of the six had not even had time to draw their swords.
He frowned. "This room is not big enough for a large number of people to fight in, so at the very most there cannot have been more than two or three of them," he said. "Their kung fu must be extraordinary."
"Since they already have the Emperor, why should they come and kill these bodyguards?" asked Commander Li. "From the look of it, last night's assassins and the people who kidnapped the Emperor are not the same bunch."
"That's right!" exclaimed Fu Kangan. "The assassins came, planning to kill the Emperor, but found he wasn't there."
"I would guess that you are correct," said Bai Zhen. "If the men who killed the bodyguards were from the Red Flower Society, then the Emperor has fallen into someone else's hands. But apart from the Red Flower Society, who else is there whose kung fu is so good?" The Red Flower Society's fighters were already difficult enough to handle: the sudden appearance of yet another group of powerful enemies froze his heart.
Bending over to look at the corpses again, Bai Zhen noticed that some of the wounds appeared to have been made by the claws and teeth of a dog, and he hurriedly asked Commander Li to send someone to find some hunting hounds.
About two hours later, a soldier appeared with three hunters and six hounds. Bai Zhen ordered the hunters to let their charges sniff around the corpses, and after a second the dogs charged out of the chamber on the trail of a scent. They ran straight to the lake and barked madly across the water. After a moment, they raced off again along the lake shore to where Qian Long had stepped ashore following the courtesan contest, then turned towards the city. The streets were crowded and the scent confused, and the dogs were forced to slow down, but they continued to head towards Beautiful Jade's establishment.
There should have been troops on guard outside the entrance, but none were to be seen, and as they entered the courtyard they found a dozen corpses lying on the ground. The ruthless assassins had not left one bodyguard alive. Some had had their throats ripped out by dogs, which Bai Zhen thought appeared from the wounds to be very large animals, possibly a cross between dogs and wolves such as were bred in the northwest. Could the assassins have come from there?
The dogs sniffed their way around Beautiful Jade's chamber several times, then began scratching and pawing at a certain point on the floor. Bai Zhen ordered the soldiers to prise up the floor boards with their swords and underneath they found a stone slab.
"Lift it up!" Bai Zhen ordered urgently. The soldiers heaved the slab up, revealing a deep hole into which the dogs immediately leapt. Commander Li and Bai Zhen looked down at the tunnel glumly. The kidnappers had avoided the heavy guard by coming and going via the tunnel. Full of shame, they led their troops down into the darkness.