Just another day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.
Me. Name's Kat.
It was just after 09:00 on a Wednesday, thirteen hours after the botched run in Double-Deuce the night before, and the three of us were seated at a table in the Red Dog's bar area. Lee, dressed in an off-white button-down shirt under a dark gray sports coat, sat across from us with his back to the bar, a mug of Revell's motor oil-thick coffee in his hands. Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, was to my right, slightly angled to see Lee and the front door, left arm draped over the back of her chair.
"Why come to us, Councilman?" I said. "I'm sure you've got people who could do what we do."
"I do," said Lee. "But I'd prefer it if there was no direct connection to me."
Mouse leaned in toward me. "This sounds unhealthy."
"Plus," Lee said, "I've been told you two are the best."
"Flattery is good, too," said Mouse. "But it still sounds unhealthy."
"How do you know about us?" I said.
"My uncle, Harry Wang. From next door."
"Fish and chips?" said Mouse.
Lee nodded. "So. Will you help?"
"What kind of help did you need?"
"Some people have taken my fiancée. I need you to get her back."
"What people?" I said.
Lee hesitated for a moment. "I thought people in your line of work didn't ask questions?"
"Just the important ones."
"Know your enemy, Councilman," I said.
Lee nodded and his brow furrowed. After a moment he said: "It's Mr. Wei."
"See?" said Mouse. "Unhealthy."
Tony Wei headed The 108, one of the two major Triad gangs tring to gain control of Chinatown. There were six in all but The 108 and the Jade Dragon Society were the most powerful.
Rumor had it The 108 were just as bad as White Lotus.
Mouse and I had recently come to an understanding with Lotus.
Not so much with The 108.
In fact, we'd never dealt with any of the Triad gangs.
Something told me it might be bad news if we did.
Lee moved the coffee mug aside and leaned forward, hands folded. "I can pay you. Forty thousand. Half now. Half later. It's all I've got right now."
Mouse leaned in toward me. "Say no."
I got up from my seat and put a hand on Mouse's shoulder. To Lee I said, "Excuse us a moment." Then I gestured to Mouse.
She let out an exasperated sigh, got up, and followed.
"What the hell, Kat?" said Mouse, pitching her voice low. "We just got cleared from one crime syndicate and now you wanna go and piss on another?"
We were in the Red Dog's back hallway. The door leading back into the bar area was slightly ajar and I could see Lee still sitting at the table staring down at his hands.
"Well?" said Mouse.
"Do you remember what Specs told us?"
"We just botched a run not ten hours ago. Word's bound to spread."
"It hasn't yet."
"We don't know that for sure."
"But it's all because we got set up. By--" She grimaced. "You know."
"Yeah. I know.
Mouse looked away. "That little piece of shit," she muttered, and I thought I heard her voice crack.
I put a hand on her shoulder. "They don't know about that. All they'll hear is that we lost out to Jade. Big. That's the word that'll spread. Especially if Specs can't do damage control in time. But if we take this run and finish it, we can help save our rep."
Mouse was nodding. "And keep the runs coming."
She quirked an eyebrow at me. "Even though it's the Triads."
"We managed our own with Lotus."
"We had a little help, remember?"
"We still took out Harada on our own," I said.
Mouse frowned. "Point." She puffed her cheeks and blew out air. "Fine. Then let's do this."
"Okay," I said and started for the door.
Mouse grabbed my arm.
I stopped, looked back at her.
"But if these assholes have Red Samurai guys, too," she said, "I'm gonna so kick your ass."
* * *
"Mei-Lin was supposed to get in from Hong Kong last night," said Lee. "At 19:20."
We were back at the table in the Red Dog's bar area. Lee had long drained his coffee but he continued to hold the empty mug, his fingers tapping against it to some unheard melody.
"At B.C. International?" I said.
Lee nodded. "I offered to send a car for her but she told me she didn't want the trouble. She was going to take a cab to her hotel."
"The Palladium. But when I went to meet her there, the front desk told me she hadn't checked in yet."
"What time was that?"
"Only takes twenty minutes to get downtown from the airport," I said.
"Half hour tops," said Mouse. "And at that time of night, there'd be no traffic."
"Then at 20:15," Lee went on, "I got the phone call. They had her. The 108. Said if I didn't agree to their terms by 13:00 today..." He broke off and looked away, blinking, worry creasing his features.
"Councilman?' I said.
Lee took a long breath, let it out, then cleared his throat. "They said if I didn't agree by 13:00 today, they'd kill her."
"What terms are they talking about?" I said.
"A month after I got elected, Mr. Wei came to see me. He wanted my cooperation with certain...activities in my district."
"Chinatown," I said.
"Yes," said Lee. He arched both eyebrows at us. "And you know what that means."
"Wei wants Chinatown in his pocket," said Mouse.
"Exactly," said Lee. "But not if I can help it. I've seen what the Triads can do. I grew up watching other councilmen cower and grovel to them and let them get away with murder. That's not why I ran. And won. People in Chinatown don't want to be scared anymore." He shook his head. "I should've seen this coming. This is all my fault."
"Don't worry, Councilman," I said. "We'll get Mei-Lin back."
"Thank you," said Lee. "And like I said earlier, I can pay. I just want her back. Please."
"Can you send me a recent picture of Mei-Lin?" I said.
I gave him a number.
He took out his phone, thumbed the keys, and looked back at us. "Done."
"And you said 13:00?"
I popped my optic clock.
Three and a half hours.
I turned to Mouse. "We've got work to do."
(to be continued...)