The Shanghai Songbird Part 5

A volley of shots rang out. A fiery hammer slammed into Lee’s abdomen. He coughed, going straight down. His vision blurred, his chest burned, wet heat squirted out of the wound. He saw the Songbird turn and run. He raised the Nambu and fired.

Missed.

She pointed her weapon over her shoulder and squeezed off a couple of rounds. A bullet slapped the sidewalk next to Lee’s face. Flinching, Lee pointed at her and pressed the trigger.

Nothing.

No more ammo.

The woman tottered over to her car. Swearing, Lee released the empty gun and tried to get up. But his torso ignited in firestorm of pain and forced him down.

“Hey…”

Lee looked to his right. Wong was on his back, trying to plug a hole in his throat with his left hand. With his right, he held out his Colt.

“Take…” Wong whispered.

Lee reached out. Grabbed the weapon. Propped himself up.

Ouyang was rounding the bonnet of her car, going for the driver’s seat. In the dim glow of the streetlight he could just about see her face framed in the car window.

He aimed. Almost shouted a warning. Then he remembered that he wasn’t a cop anymore, and this was Shanghai.

He fired. Again and again and again, the muzzle flash stealing his sight and the sharp flat report robbing his hearing. He fired and fired and fired until the Colt went dry.

He squinted, trying see past the purple spots in his sight. The window glass had been shattered. No sign of the Songbird. Grunting, he pushed himself up, pushing past the pain in his torso, and shuffled to the car.

She lay spread-eagle on the road, a dark pool blooming from her head. She was beautiful, once, before glass shrapnel shredded her face. She was still breathing, barely, and in the darkness he couldn’t see her wound. If any. He kicked the pistol out of her hand. A wet gurgle escaped her mouth, overcome by a torrent of blood. She looked at him, parted her lips, exhaled, and died.

The last of Lee’s strength bled dry. The Colt slipped from his hand and bounced off the road. He dropped to his ass, dimly aware of his hands and feet rapidly going cold. Every breath filled him with pain. He held his hand to his wound, trying and failing to hold back the surge of blood.

In the distance, police whistles blew. The police was finally, finally, coming, certain now that they wouldn’t be wandering into the middle of a gangland gunfight. In his blurring vision, he thought he saw a squad of uniformed policemen running down the road.

Who were they? Japanese? Chinese? Or—

“Shanghai Municipal Police!” a cop yelled.

In English.

Lee smiled.

****
The next few hours passed in a blurry haze. He remembered the searing pain as the British policemen hauled him to safety, the ambulance ride at breakneck speeds, the muttering of nurses and doctors as they prepared him for surgery.

When Lee was capable of conscious thought, it was daylight. He squinted against the morning sun streaming in through the window. He was lying on a stiff mattress, covered in a plain white sheet. His abs ached, but not as much as when he’d been shot.

He hazarded a look around. He was in a twelve-man ward. A quarter of the beds were empty. The other bed was filled with hard men with harder eyes. Tattoos of dragons, gods and Buddhas covered their arms and necks and faces. Some of them chatted with each other amicably, while the others studiously ignored everyone else.

A nurse looked up from her desk. Smiling, she strode over to Lee.

“You’re awake,” she said.

Lee nodded. “Where am I?”

“Shanghai General Hospital.” She consulted her clipboard. “You were admitted about six hours ago, and underwent emergency surgery for a gunshot wound to the abdomen. You seem to be doing well. The doctor will give you a more detailed diagnosis when he makes his rounds.”

As the nurse examined him, Lee spotted a quintet of men strolling into the room. Four men protecting a fifth. The other patients straightened and called out greetings to the last man, or pointedly looked away and said nothing. The nurse glanced at him and continued working in silence, taking a couple of minutes longer than necessary.

Finally, the nurse retreated to her desk. The newcomers approached Lee’s bed.

“Mr Lee,” Tang said. “Not dead yet, I see.”

“Mr Tang,” Lee said. “I’d shake your hand, but I’ve been advised to remain lying on my back.”

Tang smiled mirthlessly. “I heard what happened last night. It wasn’t an ideal outcome, but the situation was resolved. Thank you for your hard work.”

“Don’t mention it. Have you seen Sergeant Wong?”

“I heard he’s three doors down. With the rest of his police friends.”

Shanghai was a dangerous place for police. Hospitals were supposed to be neutral ground, but there was too much blood spilt on too many streets for the police to rely on the honour of thieves.

“I appreciate you coming to visit me,” Lee said.

Tang shrugged. “I had business here.”

“Ah. So, what happens next?”

“Mr Lee, you did us a great service. You need not worry about your medical fees. And, we will double the fee Ms Ouyang promised you.”

“It is generous of you.”

“It is nothing. Incidentally, my group is always looking for good men…”

Lee laughed. Once. Then the pain in his belly forced him to stop.

Tang chuckled. “You’re not a policeman any more, Mr Lee. If the Japanese dogs learn what you did, you’ll need protection.”

“I’ll consider your offer.”

“I’m sure you will.”

The gangsters left as suddenly as they had come. Lee shifted around on his bed, making himself comfortable.

The Dragon Head was right. Someday there might be a reckoning with the Japanese. Someday the police or the triads might turn on him. Someday, he might find that there was no room in Shanghai for a mixed-blood man mixed up in crime and espionage.

But for now, he could rest.

The End


Cheah Git San Red.jpg

Previous parts: 1234

Thanks for reading The Shanghai Songbird. If you’d like more long form fiction, look out for my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.

The Shanghai Songbird Part 4

“I’m still not giving you a gun,” Wong said.

Lee blew on his cold hands. “I didn’t ask for one.”

“I can hear the thought in your head.”

“Hey, we’re just seeing who shows up tonight. No need for shooting, right?”

Wong grunted sullenly.

Recruiting Wong had been simple enough. Lee simply waited outside his tiny apartment until Wong came home. A heated discussion followed indoors, but both men knew of Tang’s reputation. It was technically a matter for Special Branch, but by the time they were done arguing it was too late to contact Special Branch.

Besides, it was a surveillance job, plain and simple. They could do it just as well as the spycatchers.

They stayed in the dark inside Wong’s cramped car for the next two hours, unblinking and unmoving in the shadows, shifting only to duck under headlights of the occasional passing car.

At three minutes to four a dark saloon car circled around the block once, then parked opposite the club. Two men jumped out and headed to the door. The one in the lead rapped the door twice, then twice more. The door opened and both entered.

“They look Japanese to you?” Wong whispered.

“Can’t tell. It’s too dark,” Lee replied.

“We need to get the license plate number.”

“I’ll go. You keep an eye out.”

Lee scanned the shadow-shrouded streets and, satisfied there were no watchers, exited the car. Sauntering up to the Fiat, he slipped out his matchbook and struck a match, cupping the naked flame with his other hand.

And swore softly to himself.

Japanese diplomatic plates.

He read the numbers thrice, burning them into his brain. Extinguishing the match, he dropped the stub into a pocket and turned around.

Right into the muzzle of a gun.

“Hands up,” the gunman said in Japanese-accented Chinese.

Lee complied, leaning ever so slightly forward, taking a very small step towards the man.

“Who are you?” the Japanese asked.

Lee flicked his eyes from left to right. Behind the gunman was a deeper shadow near the car.

“Nobody, Lee said. “I just –”

BANG! BANG BANG BANG!

Glass shattered. The Japanese startled. Lee leapt in, circling his left arm to lock up the gun arm in his armpit, and blasted his right palm up into the man’s face. The blow almost bowled the man over. The Japanese jerked convulsively. The gun fired. Lee slammed another palm into the gunman’s face and simultaneously kneed him in the groin.

The Japanese fell over, slamming into the bonnet of a nearby car. Lee clenched his fist and hammered the man’s chest. The Japanese replied with a hard knife-hand block, just enough power to swipe his arm out of the way. The gunman flowed into a punch, just as Lee stomped hard on the man’s exposed foot. The punch, powered only by the shoulder, bounced off Lee’s forehead. The stomp crunched something. The Japanese screamed, sliding down the car. Lee grabbed the man’s skull and pounded it against the bonnet and bumper.

The Japanese went still. Lee stepped aside, stripped the gun and aimed it at the former threat. The Japanese remained still. Lee looked around and heard footsteps pounding up to him.

“Lee!” Wong shouted. “Are you okay?”

Lee looked over his shoulder and patted himself down.

“I’m good. What the hell happened?” Lee demanded.

“Bodyguards. Two of them. They were parked down the street behind us. When you went up to read the plate they came up to the car. One talked to me while the other went to you.”

“You shot your guy?”

He held up his smoking handgun, reloading with a fresh magazine. “Yeah. He won’t be a problem now. We need to go in and arrest the suspects before they can escape.”

“You get the front door. I’ll go around the back.”

Lee scurried down a nearby alley, which wrapped around to the rear of the club. Along the way he inspected the unfamiliar gun in his hand. It was a Japanese Nambu, a long, exposed snout of a barrel, a trigger, a handle and that was all he recognised. Lee remembered the weapon had an eight-round magazine, and since it fired earlier the safety was probably off. He wished for the Colt 1908 he’d trained on, but this was the gun he had.

Down the alley, he turned left, and in the pale moonlight saw four people scurry out the back of the club.

“Police! Stop!” Lee yelled.

“RUN!” a man shouted.

Two of them peeled away and raised gleaming objects in their hands. Lee ducked back just as a volley of shots rang out. The shooters were panicking, burning through their magazines as fast as they could fire. Lee flinched as clouds of brick dust peppered his face. When the shooting stopped he popped back out.

The two shooters were running down the alley, hurrying for cover. Lee pointed the Nambu at the nearer one’s centre of mass and pressed the trigger.

The muzzle blast stole his sight and flooded his ears. Wincing, Lee pointed at the other one but saw only a purple splotch. He fired anyway, and the brief sun illuminated two men stillon their feet. He blasted away, burning through half his magazine, before the men decided to drop.

“Run!” a woman shouted. “They’re coming! RUN!”

Two figures popped out of a nearby doorway, rushing for the mouth of the alley. One was smaller and slower, high heels clicking against the road. Lee sprinted in pursuit. As the leading figure turned a corner, the woman tripped, falling heavily to the road.

She cursed loudly in Japanese. A man replied in the same language. Lee readied his Nambu and turned the corner, coming face-to-face with the man.

“STOP! DON’T MOVE!” Lee yelled in Mandarin.

“Damn you!” the man cursed, in Shanghainese.

The figure leapt at Lee. Lee fired. The body slammed into him. The attacker screamed like a wildcat, flailing and clawing. Scrabbling with fingers and feet, Lee found the man’s shoulder and foot. Seizing it, he pulled the man down and swept out his leg, driving him into the sidewalk. Lee stomped the man in the head, and he went still.

Lee turned his attention to the woman. She was picking herself up, backing away from him.

“Ms. Ouyang?” Lee wheezed. He held his pistol low by his hip, unwilling to let her see his trembling arm. How many shots had he fired? Six? Seven? Was his gun empty?

“Mr. Lee,” she replied. She stood to her full height, bringing her handbag in front of her.

“Those men in the alleyway were Japanese.”

She stared at him in the eye. “Yes.”

Lee jerked his head at the man he’d thrown.

“That guy’s a collaborator?”

“He was my lover.”

Lee shrugged. Who knew what was in a woman’s heart? “Answer the question. Was he a collaborator?”

“Yes.”

“Your handler? Your local contact?”

She shrugged sullenly. “He was more than that…but yes. He was.”

“So, the rumours of you working with the Japanese are true.”

“Yes. What are you going to do about it?”

She clutched her handbag protectively.

“I’m just trying to learn the truth. You sent me to Tang to die, didn’t you? I mean, what kind of idiot in this city would just walk up to a triad and demand answers?”

“How did you survive?” She chuckled, shook his head. “How did he survive?”

“He gave me a way to find the truth. Too bad nobody told you about our history.”

She sighed, cursing. “I forgot. You had a reputation for fairness. Even towards the triads.” She shrugged and added, “What’s next? Are you’re going to hand me to Special Branch?”

Lee shrugged too. “Tell me, why did you collaborate with the Japanese?”

“I didn’t. I am Japanese.”

Lee blinked. “What?”

“I was born on the streets of Tsingtao. During the Great War, when the Japanese defeated the Germans, a Japanese soldier found me and brought me home to Tokyo. He raised me as his own daughter. The Genyosha recruited me at eighteen and sent me here, to Shanghai.”

“To make friends and influence people?”

“Yes.”

“You would betray your homeland? Betray your people?”

Her voice turned cold and flinty. “I am Japanese. And, there are more Japanese in Shanghai than any other foreign power. In a few more years, Shanghai might as well be Japanese too. I’m just speeding things along.”

“Lee!” Wong shouted, well behind him.

“I’m here!” Lee yelled back, keeping his gun on her.

Wong ran up, halting next to Lee.

“Caged the Songbird, eh, Lee?” Wong remarked.

“I guess I can’t persuade you to let me go,” Ouyang said. “I know your type too well.”

“If you come in quietly,” Wong said, “we can work out a deal.”

She sighed. “Well, boys, you caught me.”

“Put the bag down,” Wong said.

Crouching, she slowly placed the bag on the ground. Lee blinked hard, trying to peer through the spots dancing in his vision, but did her hand just reach inside…?

Lee extended his pistol. “Drop the bag!”

She dropped the bag.

Stood.

Fired.

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Previous parts: 123

For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check our my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.

The Shanghai Songbird Part 2

There was just enough light inside the nightclub to see the stage and nowhere enough to peer into the hearts of men. Lee placed a tiny mirror on the table, no larger than a compact makeup case, trying to make the best of the dim candlelight behind him.

Wong didn’t mind. But in their corner booth, the policeman had a good view of the door. Lee was facing the wrong way, by choice. Shanghai might be an international city but mixed bloods always drew attention. Better if people didn’t see his face.

At exactly nine in the evening Ouyang Li Yan took to the stage. Her sheer golden cheongsam glittered under the spotlights, its long slits showing off longer legs. She held her head high, regally poised on delicate high heels. Her eyes swept the crowd and landed on Lee’s. She smiled, a blazing sun just for him, and caressed her microphone with a gloved hand.

On an unseen signal, the band played. Matching her voice with the deep saxophone, she sang in English.

I knew a boy who loved to play hero / Of his flaws I knew exactly zero / But there’s one thing about him I know / To a beautiful face he’d never say no

Wong nudged Lee’s foot under the table. “I think I see the stalker.”

Lee looked at the mirror. “Who?”

“At the door. Huge Chinese guy in the cheap brown suit and tattoo on his neck.”

Lee adjusted his mirror just so, tracking the suspect. The guy was alone, staring on the singer. He loomed tall over the other patrons, taller than even the Westerners. His eyebrows were a thick dark line of hair. There was a black splotch covering his neck—it was too dark to make out what it was. He plopped down in a corner and ordered a bottle of baijiu, potent grain liquor.

Just before Ouyang had left his office, she had told him what the stalker looked like. This man seemed to fit the bill. Lee kept an eye on the mirror and an ear on the singer. She switched to Japanese for her next song, then Shanghainese. The suspect poured a cup of baijiu and carefully sipped at it. That or he was just pretending to drink it.

Ouyang worked the stage, fluidly switching languages and pitches. The man stayed rock-still, drinking mechanically. Lee cast his eye over the audience every now and then, but he didn’t see anyone else who matched the description she gave him.

When Ouyang finished her last song and went backstage, the man in the cheap suit sprang to life. He downed what was left in his cup and paid the bill. He tapped his foot repeatedly.

Ouyang reappeared, dressed in a green shawl and matching cheongsam. Audience members surged forward to greet her. The man in the suit got up, digging his hands into his pockets. Lee got up and followed.

“He’s trying something,” Lee said. “Let’s go.”

The man in the suit made his way through the crowd, shoving people out of the way. Lee worked a different tack, slipping through holes that formed in front of him, firmly pushing only when he had to, while keeping an eye on the back of the man’s head. The man jostled his way to the front, ignoring Lee as he slid in just behind him, stopping right in front of Ouyang.

The man whispered something. A woman shouted at Lee, drowning out what he said.

Ouyang’s face paled, her mouth opening ever so slightly.

The man’s right hand rose from his pocket, revealing a handgun.

Lee slipped in, seized the weapon in both hands, and wrested it up. The man pulled the trigger, and the pistol discharged harmlessly into the ceiling.

Lee startled. The crowd dissolved into shrieks and screams. The man resisted, trying to force his arm back down. Lee wrestled with him, keeping the gun pointed high, and the stalker fired once more. Out the corner of his eye, Lee saw the civilians ducking and running. Lee lashed out with his knee, connecting with the man’s thigh. The gunman’s stance crumbled. Grabbing the shooter’s wrist with his right hand, Lee twisted into him, taking him off balance—

BANG

—the body slammed to the ground. Lee pried the pistol out of unresisting hands and pointed it at the man’s chest.

Blood oozed out of the entry wound. Claret mixed with gray and white matter on the floor. The man’s eyes bulged out of his head. The world smelled of death and gunpowder and fresh soap. The body twitched and jerked erratically. Lee scanned the crowd and saw them retreat before him.

Wong caught up, badge in one hand and handgun in the other.

“He’s dead,” Lee pronounced.

The detective leaned over and felt for a pulse.

“He’s dead,” Wong confirmed.

Ouyang tottered over to Lee, clinging to his left arm.

“Oh my God,” she said. “He was…I was…are you…”

“I’m okay. Are you hurt?”

“No, no.” She sniffled. “I’m okay. I’m…I thought, I thought you were…”

Lowering the pistol, Lee held her close. “I’m fine.”

“Thank you. I’m so… thankful.”

She sobbed softly into his neck. Her breath warmed his neck, his ear, his cheek.

“Ahem,” Wong said.

Lee let her go.

Wong held out his hand. “I need the weapon.”

Lee inspected the gun. A Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. Pointing it to at the ground, he ejected the magazine with and racked the slide. A shiny bullet spun out of the ejection port, bouncing off against the floor. Lee reversed his grip and handed the pistol to the cop butt-first.

“I’m going to call for backup,” Wong said. “Do you need a doctor?”

Ouyang shook her head. “I’m fine. We’re fine.”

“Lee, I’m going to need your statement.”

Lee sighed. “Let’s wait until we get to the station.”

Wong nodded. “You two stay here and don’t touch anything.”

“Understood,” Lee said.

She held him again. They stayed that way until uniformed patrolmen flooded the club.

***
“Good news is, we’re ruling it self-defence,” Wong said. “Clearly a tragic accident by someone who had it coming. You’re free to go.”

Lee rapped his fingers against the heavy wooden table. In the interview room, it was just him and Wong and four silent walls.

“That means there’s bad news.”

“The dead man is Lin Da Hai. Triad. Hatchet man for Tang Zhong Sheng. You remember him, he’s the Dragon Head who owns a fifth of the city.”

Lee remembered. During his time in the Reserve Unit he’d clashed with Tang’s triad more than a few times.

“Did Tang send Lin after the girl?”

Another, more pronounced shrug.

“You don’t know, or you don’t want to know?”

“It doesn’t matter. Your work is done. The stalker is dead. Case closed.”

“Really? Work with me here. That guy looked like a crazy fan to you? What kind of obsessed idiot follows a woman around, does his damnedest to avoid being noticed, doesn’t even try to contact her, just tries to shoot her?” He leaned forward. “That’s not a stalker. That’s a killer.”

Wong’s face hardened to stone. “Leave this alone. This is police business now.”

“I never thought you’d leave a case alone.”

“You were a great detective, Lee. One of the best. But you’re out now. And we’re dealing with triads. Tang may hesitate to send a hatchet man after me. But you don’t have a badge or uniform anymore. It’s done. Get on with your life.”

The man exchanged icy glares over a rocky abyss. A lifetime later, Lee slapped his palms on the table and stood.

“I’m leaving,” Lee said.

“An excellent decision,” Wong replied.

Wong escorted Lee out. The detective saw the civilian all the way to the evidence room, lingering long enough for Lee to gather his things, and disappeared, leaving Lee to head out by his lonesome.

She was waiting in the lobby, a hat pulled low over her head. Looking up, she smiled at his arrival.

“Hey,” she said. “Are you okay?”

“Been better. You were waiting for me?”

“I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

They left the polite fiction at that. Walking her to the door, the wet heat of a Shanghai summer slammed into his face.
“What are you going to do now?” she asked.

He exhaled sharply, briefly forgetting he wasn’t expelling a lungful of hot smoke. And abruptly grinned at her. “Where should I send the invoice to?”

She laughed. “You’ve prepared one?”

“It’s at my office.”

She brushed her arm lightly against his side. “Let’s go. You can hand it to me there.”

Neither of them owned a car. They settled for walking to the nearest tram station. With the hat she wore, no makeup, flat shoes, she was no longer the Shanghai Songbird, just another pretty face in the crowd. People paid more attention to Lee, if only to decide where he fit on the East-West spectrum. He kept his head down, watching for passers-by and stray garbage, until a thought hammered his brain.

“What did he say?” Lee asked.

“Who?” Ouyang answered.

“The shooter. He said something to you. What was it?”

“I…the police didn’t tell you?”

“They said it was none of my business. What did he say to you?”

“He said…he said, ‘Mr. Tang sends his regards.’”

“You know this Tang guy?”

She bit her lip. “Tang Zhong Sheng.”

“The triad Dragon Head.”

“Yes. The Commissioner was…very interested in going after him.”

“And now Tang is very interested in going after you.”

“Yes.” She shuddered. “I don’t…I don’t think this is over. I don’t feel safe. The Commissioner doesn’t want to protect me, but Tang…”

“Do you know where I can find him?”

It was meant to be a rhetorical question, but Lee caught Ouyang’s eyes narrow ever so slightly.

“What are you going to do?”

“Talk to him.”

“Talk to him? Really, Mr. Lee? That’s all you’re going to do?”

He laughed. “I don’t know what you’ve been told, but many problems can be solved simply by talking to the right people the right way.”

She looked skeptically at him. “Well, the Commissioner used to talk a lot about Tang. He told me once Tang liked to have breakfast at the teahouse on Fangbang Road.”

“Thanks.” He chuckled. “Guess I have to hold on to that invoice.”

She pouted. “Going to charge me extra, huh?”

“Just seeing this case through to the end.”

Cheah Git San Red.jpg

For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.

The Shanghai Songbird Part 1

SS.jpg

Thomas Lee had read too many Western pulps to know how this would end.

“Miss Ouyang,” he said, “I sympathise with your situation. I really do. But this looks like a job for the police.”

Ouyang Li Yan didn’t frown. She was too glamorous for that. Her face melted under her thin mask of mascara and rouge, her eyes widened, and her full, luscious lips opened just so. She bit her lower lip, and shook her head.

“I tried. They just laughed at me. You know what they said? ‘A pretty woman like you will always have dashing young men throwing themselves at you.’”

He snorted, tapping his burned-out cigarette into a cheap glass ashtray. “I heard you’re…close…to the Commissioner.”

She smiled at his almost-feigned delicateness. “We used to be.”

Amazing. The gossip rags were on the money this time. “That’s a shame. But you’re a well-known woman in this city, Miss Ouyang. Someone in the force would want to help—”

Another, firmer, shake of the head. A sad, bitter chuckle. “Mr. Lee, this is Shanghai. There’s no police here. Just crooks or killers in khaki.”

“I know a few honest cops.”

She leaned forward. Lee studiously kept his eyes on hers and not the front of her low-cut Western dress.

“You’re…different, Mr. Lee. You have a reputation.”

“For what?”

“Fairness. When you were still a cop, you treated everybody fairly.”

He laughed. With a face like his, parents like his, being fair to everyone was the only choice he had. But he didn’t feel inclined to tell her that. “That’s it?”

“It’s more than enough for me.”

Lee spread his hands out, engulfing his sad little empire. A worn-down, eighth-hand desk bought cheap and held together by sheer stubbornness. A grimy telephone that worked if the Buddha willed it. A ratty couch older than Lee and Ouyang combined. A small bin overflowing with trash, and filing cabinets filled only with air.

“A reputation is fine, but see how well that worked out for me. I don’t need any trouble. For the kind of work you need, you should hire someone more well-established.”

“Someone more well-established?”

“Someone who can afford the necessary bribes.”

She folded her arms, pouting. “I don’t see a need for bribes. Just warn off the stalker and make sure he doesn’t do anything.”

“Assuming he’s a stalker,” Lee said.

“What else do you call a man who keeps following me around?”

“As you said, he hasn’t actually contacted you. No letters, no face-to-face conversation, all he’s done is show up at your gigs. Maybe he’s just a dedicated fan.”

“He’s not!” she protested hotly. “I saw him trying to follow me home after I left the club! Once I had to lead him all the way to the police station before he left me alone! You’re telling me he’s not a stalker?”

You should have told me that earlier, Lee thought. Out loud, he said, “Fine. But what if he won’t be warned off? Only other thing I can do is to inform the police, and if you know my rep, you know why I’m not a cop any more.”

Ouyang calmed in an instant. The fire died, replaced by an icy mien.

“You don’t have to get the police involved.”

“You want me to do something else.”

“Exactly.” She dropped her voice an octave. “You have a reputation for doing the right thing. The hard thing.”

“You want me to kill him?”

Her eyes were soft chocolate floating in milk. “I didn’t say that. I just want you to do what you have to do. I’ll be very grateful.”

Lee sighed. People like her, the Beautiful People, never needed to get their hands dirty. They could always hire someone like him to do it. Without hands-on experience, they’d never know the real cost of what they were really asking.

But if a man wants to climb out of the gutter, he has to work.

How grateful?”

She looked him up and down, leaned back a bit. “One month’s pay, for one night’s work. Sounds fair, doesn’t it?”

“Very fair.”

She flashed a mouthful of perfect white teeth. “Thank you. And when this is over…maybe we could have a drink someday.”

“Maybe,” he allowed.

**

“She’s dynamite,” the detective said.

“She’s a paycheck I can’t turn down,” the private detective said.

Sergeant Wong Jie sighed, mopping at his brow. The slow rotating fan overhead did nothing to dispel the wet heat of the summer day. “You’ve never met a damsel you could ignore.”

Lee shrugged broadly. “You draw a salary. I don’t.”

“You’re a mercenary now? Don’t make me look too deeply into your bank account. Your otherone at the Bank of Yokohama.”

Lee reached into his breast pocket and tapped out a cigarette. From his pants pocket he drew a book of matches. Slowly, almost casually, he lit a match and touched it to the coffin nail. He inhaled deep, let the fire touch his lungs, and breathed out an ephemeral gray cloud.

“Good luck asking the Japanese to open up,” he said finally. “But we’re not here to talk about them.”

Three rapid bangs filtered in through the office window. Both men looked out. Only the tourists were running on the streets. The locals and long-time foreigners were walking nonchalantly. Wong sighed, returning to his chair.

“We are talking about the Japanese,” Wong said. “Miss Ouyang works at the Night Orchard nightclub. The Japanese run the joint.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. After the Chinese, the Japanese make up the largest percentage of the population.”

“Miss Ouyang is a high society girl. She’s been seen with businessmen, military officers, politicians, and lately the Commissioner. And a lot of Japanese.”

“Is she a spy?”

Wong sighed. “Won’t be the first time the Japanese used a pretty woman as a spy.”

Is she a spy?”

“I chase triads. Not spies.” He opened his desk drawer and brought a cigarette of his own to his lips. He lit it with a cheap metal lighter and took a couple of exploratory puffs. “Espionage is the business of Special Branch.”

“In other words, the British.”

“Yes.”

“What do they say about her?”

“They don’t talk to us. They are spycatchers. They see themselves a higher class of cop. Damn foreigners. Well. Not including you.”

Lee tapped out the cigarette butt into the mountain of ash that threatened to spill out of the detective’s ash tray. “Hey, I’m not my father, and he was all right.”

“But you took your mother’s name anyway.”

“Sergeant, this is Shanghai.”

“True enough.”

Both men smoked in companionable silence. Eventually, Lee said, “I’m going to go to her club tonight, see if her suitor will be there.”

“You’re playing with fire.” He chuckled. “But then, when has that ever stopped you?”

“Maybe it’s nothing. Just some crazy boy with half a brain. But if the Japanese are involved here…”

“It’s your problem. I’m just a humble policeman.”

Wong chuckled. So did Lee.

“I would be grateful if I had backup,” Lee said.

Wong chewed on the cigarette, scowling. He rolled the cigarette from the left side of his mouth to the right and back again. Lee just watched.

Finally, Wong sighed. “Aiyah. I don’t have anything better to do tonight anyway.”

“I need a gun, too.”

Now you’re pushing things.”

“Please? For old time’s sake?”

Wong guffawed, almost spitting out the cigarette.

“You’re a civilian. I can’t go handing out guns willy-nilly,” Wong said.

Lee revealed a smile of yellowed teeth. “Hey, I’m not a triad. You can trust me, right?”

Wong shook his head. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I have to account for all the weapons here, and you don’t have a lot of friends in the police.”

“The stalker might have friends.”

“You don’t know that.” Wong extinguished his cigarette. “Look, what you did to Inspector Han—”

Former Inspector.”

“Former Inspector Han. Fine. That Japanese lapdog got what was coming to him. But the Japanese still have friends inside the Shanghai Municipal Police, and you didn’t give them any face. Just getting you into my office is difficult enough. Giving you a gun, now that’simpossible.”

Lee sighed. “Well, looks like I have to make do.”

“Hey, you were one of Assistant Commissioner Fairbairn’s best students.”

“He also didn’t like fighting with his bare hands.”

“Improvise. You always do.”

****

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For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.