Kowloon Edge Cafe was the most distinctive building on the block. Against a row of faded reds and greys, it was the only patch painted in black and saffron. The block stood in the shadow of the Kowloon Arcology, a strange amalgamation of concrete and metal blocks fused into an oddly coherent whole.
Thick dark clouds gathered overhead. A message from the Hong Kong Observatory appeared in his eyes: a thunderstorm was expected within the hour.
He parked his motortrike in front of the cafe. As he pulled off his helmet a trace of ash graced his nostrils. The signs on the doors and windows promised cheap rates, fast Internet speeds and ‘secure browsing’. The last was an underworld promise to breach the Great Firewall. The price of access was just thirty Hong Kong dollars an hour, and a payload of malware to capture your online and cybernetic data for the highest bidder. Bobby’s first job was to refresh and randomise the viral cocktail every couple of hours, and Vincent’s first task was to pass on the compromised data to Cybercrime.
The door sign said ‘closed’, the smarttint windows were set to maximum opacity, but strips of light peeked through the gaps around the door. Bobby pushed the door open.
“Bobby!” Max said. “Come, come!”
Max was nestled in the lounge at the far end of the cafe. The gangster stood, grinning, spreading his arms in welcome. His bionic eyes were glassy, his cheeks flushed. Max had a bootleg version of Vincent’s medical implants, which Max regularly overrode at will. The undercover cop wondered what the hell Max had snorted this time.
Bobby Song approached Max, looking around. “Where’s everyone?” Bobby asked. Then he noticed a green metal crate behind a coffee table. “What’s that?”
Max grinned like a wolf. “It’s the surprise. Come, sit. We have something very important to talk about.”
They sat, Max on a large sofa, Bobby on the couch next to him.
“Now, siewdai,” Max said, calling Bobby ‘little brother’. “You’re a very hard worker. You’ve done a lot for the crew and we all respect you for that.”
Bobby smiled slightly, shaking his head. “Aiyah, gweijeung lah.” You praise me too much.
Max waved his words away. “No, you deserve it. And tonight, your hard work is going to pay off.”
Bobby’s face lit up. “Really? How?”
Max chuckled. “Hey, relax. I’ll tell you when the crew gets here.”
There were about forty people in Max’s gang. But most of them were errand boys, associates, and other small fry. Only eight of them were in his crew, his inner circle.
“All right,” Bobby said, trying and failing to hide his disappointment.
“I wish Fish Head Chow were here,” Max said. “He would have wanted in on this.”
Bobby nodded. Three weeks ago, Chow went to an underground surgeon to install an illegal American implant, encrypting the contents of his neural memory chips. Then Chow developed an exotic brain infection. Bobby told Max he broke the surgeon’s hands and warned him never to work in Kowloon again. In reality the surgeon was languishing in a prison cell. Chow was still in hospital though. An aboveworld hospital.
“Eh, Bobby, how’s Amy? Your girlfriend?” Max asked.
“Really? What happened?”
“She said she couldn’t stand being with a ‘big shot triad gangster’. She said she’d call the police if I ever saw her again.”
Actually, Amy said she couldn’t deal with the stress of dating a cop. Especially an undercover. Max didn’t need to know that.
Max shook his head. “Shit. Sorry man. But don’t worry. You’re our brother. We’ll always be here for you.”
“Yeah. I have your back too, dailo,” Vincent lied.
The men bumped fists. Traded small talk for lies until the rest of the crew streamed in.
Vincent clenched his jaw three times. The same rolodex appeared, and Vincent flipped it to Loke’s page. A small text box appeared at the bottom of Vincent’s view.
The crew is all here, Vincent thought. Looks like Max is going to brief us.
The app transcribed his thoughts into the box. Vincent clenched his jaw once. A tick appeared next to the box.
The box scrolled up, showing Loke’s reply: Give me a live feed.
Max stood up to address the crew. Vincent blinked hard, twice. ‘REC’ appeared in green at the top left corner of his sight. He blinked once more, focused a thought, and the word turned to ‘REC/F: Eugene Loke’. He looked up at Max.
“All of you know what happened earlier tonight at Uncle Poh’s place,” Max said. “I know who did it.”
Is backup coming? Vincent asked.
“Who?” one of the gangsters asked.
“Big Nose Jiang,” Max said.
On the way, Loke replied. Give us more intel.
“How did you know?” Vincent asked.
“Simple,” Max replied, grinning. “One of the shooters forgot to update his firewalls. I hacked his wetware, grabbed his memory, and placed an interceptor app in his eyes and ears. That’s how I saw Big Nose Jiang.”
The crew cheered. So did Bobby, slapping Max on the back.
“Jiang lives in an apartment inside the Arcology,” Max continued. “His crew is having a party there. They’ve got blow, they’ve got girls, they won’t expect us coming. You all know Jiang’s been on our asses since we started moving open-access printers and wetware. It’s time for some payback, boys!”
The other gangsters shouted in approval. Bobby went along. When things quietened, Bobby spoke up.
“Jiang and his crew have automatics, right? How are we going to fight them?”
Max grinned. “Don’t worry. Once they’re high on drugs and ass, they’ll be slow. Too slow to react to this.”
Max reached down and heaved the crate onto the table. With a theatrical flourish, he snapped the locks open and lifted the lid.
“Holy shit,” Bobby said.
The crate had two compartments. The first held guns. Eight pistols, held in place by custom-designed built-in holsters. The other stored magazines and bullets in clear plastic boxes. Blank flesh masks lay atop the boxes.
I need the Special Duties Unit, Vincent sent. This is going to get ugly.
The gangsters stared at the guns in awe. Max chortled. “We have guns of our own. Uncle Poh printed all of this for us. The guns, the bullets, the masks, everything. They’re totally untraceable.”
Vincent fought back a grimace. Open-access printers could create damn near anything with the right feedstock and schematics. It was only a matter of time before every gang in Hong Kong had guns.
Acknowledged. Try to stall Max until SDU arrives, Loke said.
“I knew we could count on you, boss!” Bobby said.
“Shit’s going down!” another gangster said.
“All of you, take one gun, two magazines, one mask and one box of bullets each,” Max ordered.
“That’s all. Don’t do anything more until I say so.”
They lined up to get their gear. Vincent inspected his gun. It was a SIG P3850, Hong Kong Police Force standard issue. Bobby played with it, ignoring Vincent’s screams to watch the muzzle and the trigger.
“I know some of you have never used a gun before,” Max said. “That’s why I have a HKPF training program for all of you.”
The program floated along Hong Kong’s ubiquitous wireless signals and knocked at the door of Vincent’s firewalls. Vincent ran the program before during training. It couldn’t replace actual training. It couldn’t teach tactics and muscle memory. All it did was teach weapon safety and handling. Marksmanship, according to HKPF policy, was taught solely on the range.
Bobby accepted the program. And this time, he was much more careful with the muzzle and trigger. As were the others.
“Okay, now load your guns,” Max said.
Bobby did. His hands moved fluidly, easily, inserting one bullet after the other into the magazines. He’d done this countless times before in the Police College. He slid one magazine into the pistol, and the other into his pants pocket. He chambered a round, flipped the safety on and shoved the gun into his waistband.
Where’s the SDU? Vincent asked.
15 minutes away.
I don’t have 5.
“What’s the plan, boss?” Bobby asked.
Max spun to address everyone. “Listen up. Soon as we’re done here, we’ll split up and go to the Arcology separately. Put your masks on before you get there. Jiang lives in Golden Crown Apartments. It’s on the ground floor of Building C, in the North Wing. We’ll meet outside the entrance and go in together. There are two guards at a desk in front of the door. The lift is keycard locked, so we’ll take one from the security guards. We go up to the tenth floor, to apartment 1032. Then we kick down the door and get to work.”
Vincent phrased his next question very carefully, for the prosecutor, the defence lawyer, the judge and the jury.
“Hold on. What do you mean by ‘get to work’?”
“We’ll kill them,” Max said simply.
Vincent believed him. Max had three suspected murders to his name. At least.
“You sure about that?” Bobby asked.
Max’s voice chilled. “You questioning me?”
Bobby shook his head. “No, what I mean is, word on the street says Jiang and his crew are signing up with 22H. If we kill them, 22H might think it’s an act of war.”
The excitement in the room died.
“Where did you hear that from?” Max asked.
Vincent heard it from Eugene Loke. Bobby shrugged, keeping his expression neutral. “From Willy Leung and his friends. You know how they like to suck up to 22H.”
Max froze. Vincent noticed that everyone in the room had a loaded gun…but he was the only one whose gun was in his pants. Bobby kept his face studiously neutral.
“Willy Leung? Aiyah, don’t worry, that mohlan just likes to talk big. Besides, we’re operating in Peng Seng Hui turf and pay our taxes to Chairman Kong. If 22H moves against us, Peng Seng Hui will back us up.”
“Okay…” Bobby said, his face unconvinced.
Max slapped Bobby’s shoulder. “Siewdai, don’t worry. We’re all brothers here. If trouble comes, we’ll all stick together, right?”
“Yes dailo,” Bobby said.
“Ah, speaking of brotherhood, one more thing,” Max said, keeping his hand on Bobby. “In our business, there is only one law. The law of blood. There is only one law a rat or undercover cop can’t break. They can’t murder someone. To be one of us, you need to kill someone. Tonight is Bobby’s initiation. Tonight, Bobby is going to be one of us!”
Can’t stall them any longer. Where is the SDU?
The killers cheered. Bobby nodded. “Thank you dailo. It’s a great honour.”
The SDU team leader wants to take them down at Jiang’s apartment.
Vincent almost lost control. Almost.
That’s insane! People are going to die!
Max released Bobby. “All right boys. Time to hit the road. See you in ten minutes.”
Not my call. SDU is moving to the complex. You have to be there too.
Vincent clenched his fists. Tensed his jaw. Finally, he sent, Roger.
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