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THE WALL OF FAME
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"Shanghai Squeeze" - Part Three

Mouse and I had just stepped out of the Red Dog's back entrance into the rear lot where my refitted dark gray 2008 Shelby GT500 was parked when we spotted one of Wang's delivery guys sitting astride a faded red ToyoHonda scooter next to the Shelby.
   
Johnny, short, lanky, and round-faced with slightly oversized ears, was dressed in his usual faded silver and black Barbarians jersey with matching ball cap.
   
"Hey, Johnny," said Mouse as we approached the car. "Did Revell order something? You coulda' just knocked on the front door."
   
"No order," Johnny said. "I came to talk to you guys."
   
"About?" I said.
   
He looked around the small lot, then down the alley leading out onto Garner Street, then back to us. "I overheard Wang talking to his nephew," he said, his voice pitched low. "You know. The Council guy. The Triads grabbed his fiancee, right?"
   
I said nothing. Loudly.
   
Johnny held up both hands. "Easy, Ladies. I'm just trying to help here."
   
"Help how?" I said.
   
"I take a lot of deliveries to Chinatown," he said. "I know where they like to hang out."
   
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
   
I turned back to Johnny. "The 108?"
   
"Yeah."
   
"They're at Global Mercantile," I said.
   
Johnny shook his head. "Hell no. That's totally legit. Wei wouldn't bring his goons there. No. You want the White Crane. It's a tea house. Over on 11th and Ross."
   
"You sure?"
   
"Oh yeah," said Johnny. "I know one of the busboys. Wu. I'm always bringing him Wang's xiaolongbao."
   
"What?"
   
Johnny grinned. "These soup-filled dumplings. Wang makes a wiz batch according to Wu. Anyway, he says The 108 always hang out there when they're not running around for Wei. I've seen them there the last couple of times I met up with Wu. He pointed them out to me." He shuddered. "They'd probably slit my throat if I looked at them funny."
   
"How many are usually there?" I said.
   
"Last time I was there," said Johnny, "I saw about a dozen."
   
"When was that?"
   
"Last Friday. And their head honcho's a guy named Chen. Tall guy. Dark hair. Thin mustache. Gold ear stud." Johnny chuckled. "He always looks like he just ate something sour."
   
"How often is this Chen with them?"
   
"All the time, pretty much. There whenever I've seen them. They always get this big table in the back."
   
"And there's usually a dozen?"
   
"Usually."
   
"Problem," said Mouse.
   
"With the dozen?" said Johnny. "Hell, you two could take 'em easy."
   
"Not that," said Mouse and turned to me. "We don't know what these guys look like."
   
"Dark suits," said Johnny. "They're always wearing dark suits."
   
Mouse snorted. "Why am I not surprised."
   
"So what's the catch, Johnny?" I said.
   
He blinked at me. "Catch?"
   
"What do you get for giving us this info?"
   
He grinned. "I get on the good side of the best ronin in the Biz, that's what."
   
"Flattery is good," Mouse said.


*   *   *

The White Crane teahouse, on the corner of 11th Street and Ross Avenue, right at the border between Uptown and Chinatown, occupied the second floor of a building above an E-Z-Shoppe and a travel agency and looked like something from one of Mouse's period vids. Scarlet exterior walls, intricately carved balcony railings, and red-tiled roof with upswept corners completed the décor.
   
I parked the Shelby two blocks south on 13th Street and Mouse and I joined the parade of peds heading north on Ross, ducking past enthusiastic portabooth vendors calling out and waving wares, their sing-song voices mingling with the hum of passing traffic.
   
"Where do you think they have her?" said Mouse, gesturing with her head toward the teahouse.
   
"Somewhere out of the way," I said. "Maybe a private room."
   
"They have those?"
   
"No idea. Not enough time to recon so we're going in blind."
   
"Oh, this'll be fun."
   
I shot her the Look. The one that made people nervous.
   
"Don't give me that," said Mouse.


*   *   *
 
The teahouse was twice the size of the Red Dog. Booths lined the three walls, each separated by a low wooden wall. Three rows of tables ran down the middle, and a large table setting sat at the back. Ornate, tasseled lanterns dangled above each wall booth and long red scrolls with gold Chinese characters hung evenly spaced down the length of two walls.
   
The place was nearly full and abuzz with the low drone of conversation and the light clatter of silverware and porcelain cups.
   
"Popular spot," said Mouse.
   
"Yeah," I said and glanced at the table in the back.
   
Just like Johnny said.
   
Five men. Two women. Dark suits. Grim expressions. All Chinese. Most of the men had short buzz cuts. Two were bald. The women had their hair pulled back in tight ponytails.
   
Only seven.
   
And no one matching Chen's description.
   
"See 'em, too?" said Mouse.
   
I nodded. "No Chen yet."
   
A petite twentysomething Chinese woman with her hair pulled into a tight bun and wearing a red knee-length Mandarin-style dress adorned with stylized white dragons approached as Mouse and I stepped further inside.
   
"Table for two?" she said with a broad smile.
   
"Yes," I said.
   
She gave a short nod. "Good timing. There's just a few tables open. This way, please."
   
We followed her to an empty table in the far corner.
   
I sat facing the entrance. Mouse sat across from me, angled slightly to do the same.
   
After the hostess left, Mouse leaned forward. "Seven. And no Chen."
   
"We wait," I said.


*   *   *
   
Five minutes and a cup of white tea later, Chen stepped through the entrance like he owned the place and swept his gaze across the room. He wore a tailored dark gray suit that seemed to glitter under the tea house lights. He had neatly styled hair, a thin mustache, gold ear stud, and a sour expression.
   
Just like Johnny said.
   
"Chen," said Mouse.
   
"Yeah."
   
"Call it."
   
"I talk to him," I said.
   
"Follow your lead," said Mouse.
   
I nodded and watched.
   
Chen adjusted his suit cuffs and nodded to the hostess. She smiled at him, gave a nod, and gestured expansively toward the table at the back of the tea house. Chen strode past her and headed for the table.
   
I was on my feet the moment he started to move, met him halfway to his destination, planted myself squarely in his path.
   
He stopped less than a meter away, looked me up and down, and quirked a manicured eyebrow. "There a problem?"
   
Conversation died and I heard the clatter of feet and chair legs behind him. Didn't have to look to know the entire back table had gotten out of their seats.
   
"Might be a problem," I said, "if you don't tell us where Mei-Lin is."
   
Chen frowned. "Who the hell is Mei-Lin?"
   
"Wrong answer, Chen. Let's just cut the bullshit. Tell us where she is and everybody can walk out of here in one piece."
   
His frown deepened. "Do you know who I am?"
   
"I don't care."
   
"You'd better start caring," he said, jabbing a finger toward me. "One word from me and you'll be dead before you hit the floor."
   
"Last chance," I said. "Don't make this hard. Where's Mei-Lin?"
   
"Fuck you."
   
"Okay," I said. "Hard it is."
   
I cracked my boot into his crotch. Hard.
   
He yelped, grunted, and wheezed at the same time, hands clutching his groin, and crumpled to his knees, face twisted in pain.
   
A subvocalized command, and the world slid into slo-mo.
   
Dropped to a crouch and spun left, the Twins leaping into my hands, rising, tracking.
   
The patrons bolted from their tables and scrambled for the entrance in a mad, rushing mob.
   
Half-speed.
   
The seven Triad members had begun to scatter, guns whipping out and up from belt and shoulder holsters, coming to bear.
   
Moving at my speed.
   
Chromed, too.
   
But I was faster.
   
By at least two seconds.
   
Let the nearest pair have it, the Twins bucking and roaring. The first mook took four rounds in the chest and folded. The second barely had his pistol on me when the next four rounds walked up his torso and punched through his face, spraying bits of bone and gore.
   
Crab-crawled left, Twins still tracking.
   
A third mook popped up from a crouch behind a table two meters away, pistol muzzle flashing twice. The tea cups on the table next to me vanished in an explosion of porcelain shards.
   
Threw myself away from spray of tea cup pieces, catching air, the Twins rising up, stroked the triggers.
   
Four more rounds slammed into the mook, cratered his chest, and he crumpled.
   
Landed sideways onto a table, knocked it over, and crashed to the floor amid spilled flatware, cups, and dishes.
   
Rolled to prone, the Twins still out.
   
Spotted Mouse taking out one of the female mooks with her Bowies, the thick blades flashing, cutting, spraying crimson.
   
Saw another mook step out from behind cover and take a bead on her.
   
The Twins spat fire and thunder.
   
The top of the mook's head disappeared in a burst of blood and gore and he toppled.
   
Rolled onto my back, then to a low crouch, pivoted, the Twins still tracking.
   
Pan and scan.
   
When no more mooks opened fire, I stood up.
   
The last of the tea house patrons had just bolted out the entrance, their screams echoing after them.
   
Another subvocal command and the world slid back to normal.
   
Looked around.
   
Mouse had taken down three mooks. I got the other four. They lay in unwieldy poses on the carpeted floor. The haze of propellant hung in the air and the scent of burnt metal tickled my nostrils.
   
Mouse stepped up beside me.
   
"Clear?" I said.
   
"Five by five," she said.
   
I nodded and strode back to Chen, making my way past the table I had knocked over.
   
He was still in the same spot, now lying on his side, still clutching his crotch.
   
"Ready to talk?" I said, looking down at him.
   
He craned his neck toward me, snarled, and rolled toward his left side, his right hand diving into his suit jacket, then whipping back out with a pistol.
   
Felt something streak past my right leg.
   
And three slim throwing blades erupted out the back of Chen's right hand.
   
He screamed, dropped the pistol, grabbed his wrist, and fell back on the floor sideways.
   
"Now?" I said.
   
"You bitch--!" he said through gritted teeth, saliva foaming at the corners of his mouth. "You're gonna pay, you hear?"
   
"All you had to do," I said, "was tell us where to find Mei-Lin and we could've avoided all this."
   
"I told you I don't know any Mei-Lin," said Chen. "Who the fuck is she?"
   
I leveled Bonnie at his face. "Councilman Lee's fiancée," I said. "Where is she?"
   
"That little crusader piece of shit?" He made a sound halfway between a chuckle and a grunt of pain. "Power to the people, my ass. How the hell should I know where his damn fiancée is?"
   
"I supposed you're gonna tell me Mr. Wei didn't send you to grab her."
   
Chen shot me a strange look, then threw back his head, guffawed, then hissed in pain.
   
"Did I say something funny?"
   
"You really don't know who I am, do you?"
   
"Enlighten me," I said.
   
"I'm Jade Dragon Society," he said with a smirk. "So Mr. Wei can kiss my ass."
   
I felt my gut tighten.
   
Shit.
   
Oh shitshishitshit.
   
Chen must've seen my reaction because his smirk grew into a toothy grin. He sat up, still cradling his bleeding hand. "That's right, Lady. You came to the wrong house and pissed off the wrong people. Completely wrong people. I know what you and your little friend look like and I'm gonna buzz the news all over the city. You two are gonna pay. We're coming to get you--"
   
I cracked the bottom of my boot into the middle of his face.
   
He yelped and fell back, bounced his head once off the carpet with an audible thunk, and went silent.
   
Mouse said: "Fuck a duck."

"Shanghai Squeeze"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4



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