"Now I want ten catties of gristle, chopped fine, also to be used for fining, and I don't want to see any meat in it."
Zheng laughed awkwardly. "Are you making fun of me?"
Lu Da leaped up, one package of chopped meat in each hand, and scowled at the butcher. "That's exactly what I'm doing — making fun of you." He flung the contents of the packages full in Zheng's face.
The shower of meat stung the butcher into a rage. From the soles of his feet, fury surged into his forehead. An irrepressible flame blazed in his heart. He grabbed a paring knife from the butcher's block and jumped down from the shop steps. Lu Da was waiting for him in the middle of the street.
None of the dozen or so clerks from the neighboring shops dared to mediate. Passers-by stood frozen in their tracks on both sides of the street. The attendant from the inn was struck dumb.
The knife in his right hand, Zheng reached for Lu Da with his left. Lu Da seized the outstretched hand, closed in and sent the butcher sprawling with a swift kick in the groin.
Another step forward and he put his foot on Zheng's chest. Raising a fist like a vinegar keg, Lu Da thundered: "I was roving inspector of five western military districts under Old General Zhong. People might very well call me Lord of the West. But you're just a meat slicing butcher, a low cur. Where do you come off giving yourself such a title? And who gave you the right to force and cheat Jin's daughter Jade Lotus?"
He landed a punch on Zheng's nose that flattened it to one side and brought the blood flowing like the sauces in a condiments shop — salty, sour and spicy. Zheng struggled vainly to rise. The knife fell from his hand. "A good blow," he cried.
"Mother-raping thief," said the major. "How dare you talk back?" He punched the butcher on the eyebrow, splitting the lid so that the eyeball protruded. Red, black and purple gore flowed like swatches of cloth M a draper's shop.
The spectators were all afraid of Lu Da. None of them ventured to intervene.
Vanquished, Zheng begged to be spared.
"You scurvy knave," the major exclaimed scornfully. "If you had shown any guts I might have let you off. But since you're so lily-livered, I won't" He struck the butcher a heavy blow on the temple. Zheng's head rang like the clanging of gongs, bells and cymbals in a big memorial service. The butcher lay stretched on the ground. Breath was coming out of his mouth, but none was going in. He didn't move.
Lu Da pretended to he incensed. "Playing dead, eh? I'll hit you a few more!" He had observed that Zheng's face was changing color. "I only wanted to give the varlet a beating," he said to himself. "Who would have thought that three blows would kill him?
They're sure to hold me for trial, and I've nobody to bring me food in prison. I'd better get out of here."
He rose and strode away, pausing briefly to look back, shake his finger at Zheng's corpse and shout: "Go on playing dead. I'll settle with you later."