Players of the Game
In the evening, after a light dinner, Lee took a long and winding path through the streets of Shanghai, avoiding cop and criminal alike. His route took him through shopping districts and wet markets, ending in an apartment block not too dissimilar to his own.
On the third floor, Lee followed the corridor to the fifth unit and pounded the door. Half a minute later, the door opened to reveal the slight frame of Detective Sergeant Wong.
“Tang Shuisheng contacted me,” Lee said. “I thought you might want to know.”
Wong let Lee in. Mrs Wong prepared tea for the men and scurried to the bedroom. As the men lit up their cigarettes, Wong fished out pen and notebook from his pocket and granted Lee a questioning look.
In between sips of tea and hits of nicotine, Lee recounted Tang’s visit. Wong crossed his legs and listened intently, leaving his stationery alone. Lee recounted every last detail, from the moment Lee returned to the moment Tang left, leaving nothing out. The moment Lee was done, Wong wrote his response.
Do you plan to press charges against Tang for breaking and entering?
Lee laughed. Wong grinned in silence, doing his damnedest not to laugh too. When he finally recovered, Wong wrote again.
What are your intentions?
“You paid for my services. I intend to hold up my end of the bargain.”
Other men would be tempted by Tang’s offer.
“I don’t trust the words of a serpent.”
Wong nodded, and wrote again.
There’s been a development in the Shen case. After the attempted arrest, he’s been pressing his customer to meet up and hand over the goods. Last night, Wu Ye agreed to meet him.
“When and where?”
Noon tomorrow at Jin Xuan Restaurant.
“What’s the plan?”
You don’t have to be there.
“You can’t speak, can you?”
My men still have voices. Wong frowned, and scribbled some more. Nonetheless, an extra pair of hands would be much appreciated.
“Do I get a gun this time?”
“Just had to ask.”
At daybreak, Lee dressed himself in his finest. A blue suit with matching tie and bowler hat. He adorned his face with a pair of display spectacles, shaved his mustache and sideburns, and drew a false mole on his right cheek. Now suitably attired, he dialed a number on his telephone.
“I’m on my way,” Lee said. “Jin Xuan restaurant, eleven o’clock.”
The listener grunted and hung up.
Lee spent the morning smoking and tending to his office, tossing out bills and trash, and cheerfully ignoring the business cards other visitors had slipped under his door. When it was time, he fortified himself with yet another cigarette and made his way to Jin Xuan Restaurant.
It was Eastern charm and Western dynamism, a top-flight establishment serving classic Shanghai cuisine encased in an Art Deco shell. Warm wood and bright gold adorned the exterior, and through the window glass Lee saw more expensive wood, more gold leaf, and serving staff dressed in black suits and red cheongsams.
A pretty hostess led Lee to a private booth at a corner, and prepared a pot and a cup of tea. Just past the booth was the rear exit. Lee sipped at his tea, set his hat on the table, studied the menu, and waited.
In the fullness of time, three men entered the restaurant. Chinese men in smart Western suits and hats. One had a heavy cane, one carried a briefcase and the last scratched absently at his throat.
Zhou, Chan and Wong.
Lee waved them over. The detectives had donned heavy disguise, wearing makeup and hair dye to make themselves look five or ten years older than they really were.
“Glad you could make it,” Zhou said.
“I’m with you until the end,” Lee replied.
“Of course,” Chan said quietly.
The men ordered copious amounts of tea and appetizers, and spoke to each other about the weather, business, politics, everything and nothing at all. In the fullness of time, a familiar-looking man slipped into the restaurant, accompanied by a hostess.
“Our friend Shen has arrived,” Lee said calmly.
Shen sat in the middle of the room, bag by his feet. It was the same bag Zhou had given him. Tapping his feet, he alternated between studying the menu and the door. The detectives continued to study Shen, sipping at their tea and pretending to eat.
Ten minutes later, three smartly-dressed men entered the restaurant. Two of them led the way, scanning the room with their hands in their pockets. The last simply strode in like he owned the place, making a beeline for Shen.
“That’s Wu Ye,” Chan whispered. “He’s got two bodyguards with him.”
“I’m going to call it in,” Lee said.
Wong nodded. Lee got up and made his way to the rear of the restaurant, where a payphone awaited near the restrooms. Lee fed it a coin and dialled another number from memory.
“Yes?” a British-accented voice asked.
“The players are all here,” Lee said.
“Got it. Fifteen minutes.”
Lee returned to his seat. Fifteen minutes,” he said.
“It’s all over but the waiting,” Zhou said.
The detectives, police and private, drank their tea and made more small talk, dragging out the faux-meal as long as they could. Shen and Wu, now seated at their tables, exchanged bags under the bodyguards’ watchful gaze. The men peeked at the contents of their bags, smiled, and exchanged handshakes.
They leaned in, making hushed conversation. A hostess laid out a full meal for Wu, but served only tea to Shen.
“I wish we could hear what they were saying,” Chan groused.
“More business deals?” Lee offered. “Guns are always in demand in Shanghai.”
“Always,” Zhou confirmed.
One last round of handshakes, and Shen stood to go.
“We’re not going to get him?” Chan said.
“Relax,” Lee said. “It’s all under control.”
“The Reserve Unit isn’t here yet.”
Shen left the restaurant. Through the window pane, Lee saw Shen ambling to a car.
“He’s going to get away,” Chan said.
Across the street, police officers swarmed out of unmarked cars, clad in heavy steel plates and carrying Tommy guns and Colt M1911s. A quartet swarmed Shen, grappling him to the pavement. The others made a beeline for the door.
Chan smiled. “Trust the Reserve Unit to come at the last second.”
“The cops are here!” a man shouted.
The Reserve Unit burst in. Wu Ye and his bodyguards shot to their feet, Wu grabbing the bag of guns.
“POLICE! NOBODY MOVE!”
The gangsters ran.
Shoving past patrons and squeezing through chairs, they hustled for the rear exit. Wu unzipped the bag and reached in.
Lee tossed his hat into Wu’s face.
Wu startled. Lee exploded from his seat, charged at Wu—
And a bodyguard stepped in with a massive haymaker.
Lee ducked, covering himself with his forearms. The bodyguard dropped low, firing a body shot. Lee twisted around, catching the fist on the point of his elbow.
The gangster swore, dropping his wounded hand. Lee whirled around, slapping him in the temple. The blow rocked him, sending him staggering into a table. Patrons screamed. Lee grabbed his skull and rammed it into the hardened wood.
The gangster went limp.
Lee scanned. Wong and Zhou had fallen on the other bodyguard, wrestling him to the floor. Wu was still on his feet, his bag of guns clutched protectively to his chest. Chang feinted with a high jab, then snapped into a low kick.
Wu shielded with his bag, then smashed it into Chang’s face. The blow bowled the detective over.
Wu ran for the door.
Lee stepped over Chang. Cops yelled all around him, but their voices faded out. The world had shrunk down to Wu’s back and the pounding of feet.
Wu kicked the door open.
Lee wrapped his arms around Wu’s waist. They went down together, tumbling out the door and into a back alley. The bag went flying, spilling guns over the concrete.
“LET ME GO!” Wu roared.
Lee grabbed an arm with both hands and wrenched it behind Wu’s back. Wu cursed.
“You’re going to pay for this! Do you know who I work for?!”
“POLICE!” a voice boomed behind Lee. “LET HIM GO!”
“If I let go, he’s going to run!” Lee replied.
Cops appeared by Lee’s side, grabbing Wu’s arms.
“We’ve got him. Now let him go.”
Lee released Wu. Strong hands roughly stood him up, pressed him against a nearby wall and patted him down.
“Who are you?” the officer demanded.
Out the corner of his eye, Lee saw Chan emerged from the door.
“Ta shi ziji ren,” Chan gasped, holding up his badge in one hand and gesturing at Lee with the other.
“One of us, eh?” the cop said, and let Lee go.
As the cops dragged Wu back into the restaurant, Lee turned around and studied the man who had searched him. His thick glasses and avuncular expression were better suited for a scholar than a battle-hardened cop, but behind his spectacles were eyes as hard as iron, and his hands gripped his Colt with the sureness of long experience.
The cop stared at Lee’s face. “You look familiar,” he said in English.
“I used to serve under you for a while,” Lee said in the same tongue, “then I moved on to the detectives.”
The cop smiled. “Ah. Tomas Lee, aren’t you?”
“I see you’re still fighting the good fight.” The cop patted his shoulder. “Well done.”
They returned to the restaurant. As the senior officer rejoined his men, the detectives congregated near their booth. Zhou gestured at the white cop.
“Was that…?” Zhou began.
“The head of the Reserve Unit, yes,” Lee replied.
“No way! You know him?!”
“In another life.”
Zhou shook his head. “You’re a lucky man.”
“In more ways than one,” Lee said.
“Better hope your luck holds out,” Chang said. “Crossing Wu Ye, and with him Tang Shuisheng, will have consequences.”
“I made my choice,” Lee said. “We’ll have to live with it.”
For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.