Two Birds with One Stone
Sorting out the shooting took the rest of the night and most of the following morning. Sustaining themselves with coffee and cigarettes, the detectives, police and private, endured interminable interviews and waded through never-ending seas of paperwork until Wong at last pulled strings and expedited their release from the clutches of the all-consuming bureaucracy.
Inside Wong’s office, the police detectives recounted their tale once more to their boss, while the private detective remained mostly silent, save to fill in a few blanks. As the men spoke, a frown appeared on Wong’s face, and steadily grew deeper.
“We underestimated Shen,” Zhou concluded. “We should have gone in with more manpower, more firepower, more vehicles.”
“That would have just tipped him off,” Chan said. “Half the police is in the pocket of the triads. If we’d called for help outside our group, Shen would never have showed up.”
Lee folded his arms. “On the bright side, we took four of his thugs off the street. Permanently.”
Wong grunted sullenly. The gunmen were just hired hands, easily replaceable. With Shen still at large, it was a small victory.
“What’s the next step?” Lee asked.
“I’ll start hitting up my contacts and pressure them to keep an eye out for Shen,” Chan said.
“I burned the only informant I have who had a direct line to Shen,” Zhou said. “Shen would cut ties with the informant. I’m back at square one.”
Wong scribbled on a piece of paper and held it up.
Time is of the essence. We must catch him. Quickly.
“It sounds like you have a burning reason to find him,” Lee said.
Wong kept writing.
Word on the the street is that the triads are ordering guns and ammo on the black market. They may be preparing for a gang war. Shen is their primary supplier. If we don’t catch Shen, Shanghai will bleed.
“Which triad?” Lee asked. “Who’s their boss?”
“Tang Shuisheng,” Zhou said.
Lee was well-acquainted with that name. Tang owned a fifth of the city, both legit and underworld. In the days when Lee still had a badge, their ways had crossed more than a few times. Nothing good could come from Tang arming up.
“If you know all this, it means you have an informant in the triad. Maybe more than one. Correct?” Lee asked.
“Tang’s not the kind of man to get his hands dirty,” Lee mused. “He’ll delegate the purchase to one of his subordinates.”
“Correct,” Chan said. “One of our informants says that Tang’s deputy, Wu Ye, handles logistics, including purchases of firearms. Wu Ye will deal with Shen in person.”
Lee steepled his fingers. “If we can’t find the supplier, we might have better luck finding the customer.”
Wong smiled, and wrote.
I have a source close to Wu Ye. He can tell us when Wu Ye will be buying guns from Shen.
“When they do meet, we can kill two birds with one stone,” Chan declared.
“Sounds good to me,” Zhou said.
“I do not want to be ambushed like the last time,” Lee said. “We need backup.”
“Who can we trust not to tip off the targets?” Chan asked.
“The Reserve Unit.”
The elite of the Shanghai Municipal Police, they took the war on crime to the criminals’ doorstep. Rioters, kidnappers, armed robbers, they were all under the purview of the Reserve Unit. Heavily-armed gunrunners would count. Most importantly, Lee knew that William E. Fairbairn, the leader and founder of the Reserve Unit, had bled too much to sell out to the criminals.
As one, the police detectives nodded.
The sun was high in the sky when Lee finally emerged from the Central Police Station. With every step he felt like he was wading through a watery wall of heat. Sweat gathered in his armpits, his tongue dried out, and his shirt clung to his back.
Finally surrendering to the inevitable, Lee ducked into a tea house for a late breakfast, or perhaps it was an early lunch. After a fight, he usually found himself ravenous, and today was no exception. He indulged himself with plates of dim sum and cups of hot sweet tea, returning the long stares of passers-by and patrons with hard looks of his own. There was no challenge in his eyes, just a simple acknowledgment that yes, he was mixed-blood, and no, today was not a good day to trifle with him.
Now fortified, he took a long and circuitous route back home. His route spanned three trams, two trolleybuses, and a full hour on foot walking round and round in ever-tightening circles.
Old habits died hard. In his police days, whenever he arrested, fought or shot a gangster, Lee always took extra precautions on the street. The streets of Shanghai had long memories, and grudges demanded repayment in blood. Even now, as a civilian, he insisted on this routine. Paranoia, perhaps, but it was a privilege enjoyed only by the living.
Satisfied that no Triad hatchet men were hunting him, Lee returned to his apartment. The events of the last night had taken his toll, and he was no longer a young man. Between his lack of sleep and the magnificent meal, he was ready to crash into bed for the rest of the day. Already he felt tension gathering around his temples and shoulders, a sure sign he was on his last legs.
All the same, he remained vigilant. He looked both ways before entering his apartment block, and saw no suspicious strangers or vehicles. No goons waited for him in the main corridor of his floor. Fishing out his keys, he unlocked the door, stepped through—
And seated on his living room sofa was a man.
An older man, dressed in a smart red suit, arms nonchalantly sprawled all over the sofa, shoes firmly planted on the floor. A familiar man, with a familiar smile, the smile of a snake greeting a rat that crawled into its lair.
A man named Tang Shuisheng.
For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES