Chapter XLVI: Thinning the herd
Several men were running past as I stepped onto the street, carrying the struggling form of a woman over one of their shoulders. I watched as they ran down a side-alley, and into a building. Briefly I considered following, then shrugged.
Not my problem. I should remember that once in a while. Maybe then I wouldn't spend hours trawling around sewers with a bunch of rejected circus freaks.
The Red Dragon was an impressive and expensive looking restaurant at the fringe of Chinatown. Despite the late hour, the building was still open.
The inside of the building was tastefully decorated, though almost empty. A waitress stood at a small podium near the door to the restaurant section of the building, an impressive looking room with a large aquarium built around the wall. I walked up to the woman with an easy smile.
'Not a problem. I'm here to see Wong Ho, if he's available.'
'Second floor. Have a good night.'
I smiled again, thanking the waitress and stepping into the elevator. Arriving on the second floor, I walked into the office, through brightly polished wooden doors, coming into a sparse yet clean workspace. The man standing in front of me was walking backwards and forwards, wringing his hands, his expression panicked.
'Took who?', I asked, feeling my shoulders sag. This just had to have something to do with the men I'd seen earlier. I just knew it.
'Listen, Ming-Xiao sent me.' I hoped to divert the man, get his mind on something else long enough for me to get some sense out of him. His face paled, and his vision momentarily cleared, his voice full of respect and fear.
'Not a problem. You said your daughter was taken by the Tong?'
That waitress was calm for someone just involved in a kidnapping.
'Where do you think they've taken her?'
Wong Ho broke off as his phone started ringing. He pressed it to his ear, and spoke.
Wong Ho put the phone down on the desk and looked at me with an expression of mingled excitement and hope. Try as I might to ignore it, I could not help but be affected by his look. Internally, I sighed.
'Just name the place my friend, and I'll go pick her up for you.'
'Lotus Blossom. Ok, stay calm, I'll get her. When I get back though, we really need to talk.'
I smiled, turning from the office and walking slowly out of the building. If the Lotus Blossom was a front for the Tong, it was probably going to be heavily guarded. Particularly if there was a ransom involved. After my adventure underground, I needed to stock up.
Not sure why the building seemed to draw me to it, I walked into the herbal remedy store, curious as to why a standard shop was keeping such odd hours. When I got inside, I chuckled.
Tseng was interestingly dressed for a man peddling Chinese medicine. In fact, I had grave reservations about his qualifications. The man in military garb stood to attention when I walked to the bench, and introduced himself as if he was on the field.
At ease, soldier, I thought, amused. On the whole, Chinatown was much more fun than the rest of LA.
'Hi there Tseng, nice store you have here.'
'Yep, I've heard a lot about the herbal remedies forces. I was wondering whether you had any for a nasty Tong infection.'
'Well, I don't know Tseng, do bacteria usually respond to conversation?'
Tseng grinned, pressing a button under the counter. A whirring noise sounded as the display cabinets behind the counter rotated.
I chuckled, looking at the impressive weaponry on sale. Deciding to keep my current weapons, I bought some heavy leathers that Tseng had on sale, supposedly adding another layer of protection against bullets. Restocking on ammo, I saluted the retired soldier, and walked out of the building, heading towards the alley I had seen the Tong enter.
The Lotus Blossom was still, the sign on the door stating the building was closed. If Tseng running a herbal remedy store that sold weapons in the small hours of the morning was unusual, a massage parlor being closed at the same time was downright bizarre. Testing the front door, I found it open.
The interior was gaudy, large carpets attempting to hide the cracked and weathered floors, the peeling wallpaper. The scantily clad woman at the counter looked at me in surprise and outrage, hands on her rounded hips.
'You're not supposed to be in here! We're closed!'
I drew the colt from my belt and held it to my lips.
'Sssh, this is none of your concern.' The woman froze, eyes widening as she pressed herself against the wall. Walking past, I looked down the long corridor, wondering where to look for Kiki.
'What the fuck is this? You're in the wrong building asshole!'
I turned, seeing two men draw guns as they stood up from a table, playing cards falling to the floor, discarded and forgotten. I cursed myself for my inattention. You're not playing with the Tmizce's toys anymore, fool!
I jumped back to the side as the two men opened fire, plaster and wallpaper falling to the floor where my chest had been. Stepping back into the corridor, I took careful aim, shooting one man in the head. He fell, blood streaming from the wound, blood and brain splattering the wall behind him. The other man paused for a moment, looking at his friend in horror. His expression indicated that he had not expected such cold marksmanship, had not expected that I would step so quickly out of the way. It also indicated he was having second thoughts about the whole endeavor. That moment was all I needed. Stepping forwards quickly, I caught the man off-guard, placing the barrel of the gun under his chin.
'Sweet dreams', I hissed, frustrated at the attention the gunplay would have brought. I pulled the trigger, watching in almost casual disinterest as his skull exploded, fragments going everywhere. Kicking the body away, I cursed again, hearing a door down the corridor open.
A man ran towards me, brandishing a shotgun. I watched as he attempted to sprint down the hallway, raising the gun as if to fire while moving. Whether panic had dulled his senses, or whether he was always this stupid, was immaterial. Standing, I looked down the barrel of the gun, waiting until he came into my line of sight. I fired, the bullet taking the man in the chest just below the throat. He gave a gruesome gurgling noise, dropping the shotgun, falling to his knees. He gripped his throat, coughing up blood, drowning in his own life. I walked up to him, firing again to put him out of his misery. Killing was a necessity, but I would refuse to be cruel. I would not be like the flesh-crafter. I would not be like humans.
The door the thug had opened led to a stairway. I stood at the foot of the stairs, listening for the sounds of footsteps. Nothing. Quietly making my way up to the next floor, I crept along the long hallway, dispatching a lone Tong with a flick of the sword. He fell to the floor, and I continued to the end of the hallway.
The padlock on the door gave me little trouble. My strength combined with the but of the shotgun made small work of it, the broken metal falling to the floor with a clang. I pulled the door open, stepping into the room.
Behind a badly boarded up wardrobe I could see a young woman, her expression a mix of fear and petulance. I walked up to the wardrobe and looked at the woman.
'You must be Kiki.'
'Yeah, that would be why I'm getting you out', I responded, pulling a board off.
'You're observant aren't you? I'm also a little white to be in a triad. Your dad sent me to get you.'
I looked at the girl with stunned irritation. Here I was, breaking her out, and she starts with the attitude? I frowned.
'You know, they didn't really do a very good job at boarding you out. I think I can do a better job', I said cheerfully, replacing the board I'd dislodged. Kiki looked at me in terror.