She blew into his office like a typhoon, her face speaking of desperation and relief. He swept his eyes over her. She was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties. The cut of her clothes was distinctly Western. Not significant in Sum Kong, even for Asians. But her face was obviously Japanese.That meant trouble.“Are you...Mr. Lee?” she asked in Cantonese. He nodded, sitting up straight. “Yes.”She searched his face with her eyes. He reciprocated. “Are you looking for me?” he said finally.“Oh, sorry,” she said. “Yes, I am. I just thought you were...” She stifled a frown.He chuckled. “In this city, the name ‘Ethan Lee’ tells you nothing about a man’s race or nationality. Don’t worry about it.” He gestured at the chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit.”“Thank you,” she said. She sat down like a queen. He did his damnedest not to stare at her legs. He cleared his throat. “So, how can I help you?”She paused, looking down. “I’m sorry. I forgot my manners.” She looked back up. “My name is Ebisawa Suki. Men are trying to kill me. I need your help.”He frowned. “It’s a dangerous time to be Japanese in this city, Ms Ebisawa. The war ended just three months ago.” He leaned forward, piercing her eyes with his. “Why are they trying to kill you? Why didn’t you go home?” He frowned, added, “How did you even come to Sum Kong?”She blinked. “I lived here when I was a child and learned to speak Cantonese. When the authorities opened the local branch of the Yokohama Specie Bank, I was brought in to help. When the war ended, I was...” She turned away.“Take your time,” he said.She took a deep breath. “It was a very chaotic time. The war ended so suddenly. Nobody could keep track of anybody. I was closing up the bank when I was...kidnapped. By the triads. They...they were rounding up everyone who worked with the authorities.”He nodded. “They still are.”“They...they snatched some women. All Chinese. I was the only Japanese. They brought us to a house. Forced us to...”She buried her face in her hands and sniffled. He got up, walked around his desk, and patted her on the shoulder. “Take it easy,” he said. “It’s over now.”She nodded. “Give me a moment.”He walked away from her, settling next to a window.“I’m sorry,” she said, looking back up. She slid to her left and faced him, crossing her legs. He told himself not to look at those mile-long legs.“Please go on,” he said.“I escaped,” she said. “I had to...hurt...one of their men. Now they’re looking for me. I want to go back home, Mr Lee. I need your help.”“Which triad grabbed you?” he asked.“Buk Hup Hui.”He sighed. “The largest triad in Sum Kong. Of course it had to them.”“Please help me, Mr Lee,” she pleaded. “I have nowhere to go.”“Why me?” he asked. “Why not go to the police or the American consulate?”She shook his head. “Everybody knows the police are in bed with the triads, and the Americans said they couldn’t help me.” Her eyes softened. “You have a reputation for fairness, Mr Lee. If anybody, Asian or Western, needed help, they could turn to you.” She swallowed, leaning forward. “I’d be very grateful for your help, Mr Lee.”His cheeks warming, he looked out the window. A red Chevrolet Styleline sedan screeched to a halt in front of his building, just behind his car. All four doors opened simultaneously.He crouched and took a small step away from the window.“Mr Lee?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”“Quiet,” he commanded.Four Chinese men exited the cars with the wariness of prowling wolves. Two of them were carrying Sten submachine guns. The air around the other two was boiling like a mirage. He knew they were holding Chinese magic on hair triggers. Ethan stood up, spinning around. “We have to run.”Her face paled. “What? Why?”In a single fluid motion, he parted his coat and drew a Browning Hi-Power with his right hand. He snicked off the safety, putting his finger on the frame, and regarded her with tombstone eyes.“The triad sent four hatchet men here. If you want to live, do exactly what I say.”She rocketed to her feet. “What do I do?”“Are you armed?”“No.”He walked to the left side of the doorway, holding the gun at chest height. “Hold my left shoulder with one hand and follow me. Do not let go. I won’t be able to look after you. You have to catch up.”“Understood.” A moment later, a cool, firm hand gripped his shoulder.“Let’s go,” he said.He stepped through a semicircle around the door, gun pointed at the corridor beyond without quite passing through the doorway. He took a single bold step through, and spun around. Ebisawa flinched. She was the only other person in the corridor.“Move like me,” he ordered. “Make as little noise as you can, but do not fall behind. Tell me if anybody is behind us.”“Okay.”He turned back around and stalked down the hallway, his feet landing heel-first. His steps were silent. Hers was a little louder. They came to the interior fire escape staircase. “There may be gunfire,” he warned. “Brace yourself. Do not let go.”He stalked down the stairs. She followed. He approached every corner at an angle with his pistol raised, clearing every blind spot before he stepped into them. They went down one floor in silence.Two.Three.Then he saw a Sten-armed gangster turn a corner. Ethan pointed the Browning and fired twice. The hatchet man fell away. A man cried, “Lin-heng!”Ethan bulldozed down the steps. The air turned stifling hot. He saw another killer, the air around him coalescing. Ethan double-tapped the mage in the face. The air cooled abruptly.Ethan reached the ground floor, burst through the exit, and made a quick scan. They were in an L-shaped corridor. The back door of the building was at the junction of the L, on his left. To his right, nobody. “Hey!” a hoarse voice shouted. “You guys okay?”“Get out the back,” Ethan whispered. “I’ll hold them off. Hold the door open for me.”“I --” she said.“Do it!” he hissed, swapping the Browning to his left hand and keeping his finger off the trigger. She let go of his shoulder. He peeked around the corner, just enough to expose the gun. There was a wooden door in front of him. He trained the gun on the door. The back door squeaked. Loudly.“Out the back!” the same man shouted. The wooden door moved.Ethan straight-armed the gun and poured a stream of lead through the door. A man screamed. Ethan turned to look at the back door. It was open. He dashed out, his pistol changing hands. The door closed behind him, revealing the woman.“Now what?” she asked.He scanned the street. Pointed at a green Volkswagen Beetle. “Behind that car!” he shouted.They sprinted. He drew a fresh magazine from a two-magazine pouch on his left hip and ejected the almost-spent one. Slid in the new mag and dropped the old one into the pouch. He got behind the hood of the car. She sidled up next to him.“Watch the corner of the building,” he said. “Tell me if anybody sneaks up on us.”She scooted away. He took a deep breath. Let it out. Black energy rippled around him.The door exploded. A fire spirit, shaped like a dragon, swooped out. A man with a revolver followed.Ethan popped up, gripping the gun in both hands and locking his arms, placing the front sight over the centre of the second man’s face. Fired twice. The dragon roared, rushing towards him. He extended his left palm. The black energies surged down his arm, forming a black bolt that consumed the dragon. Ethan surveyed the street. Passers-by screamed and ran for cover. He swapped out the magazine for his last spare.“Is it over?” she asked.“For now,” he said. “Come with me.”They walked to the front of the building and got into his car, a grey 1941 Ford coupe. “Where are we going?” she asked.“Somewhere safe,” he said, starting the engine.“You saved me,” she said. “Thank you.”He smiled. “You’re welcome.” He started driving.She chuckled. “That’s Western magic right? Were you a spy?”He snickered. “No.”“Really?” She smiled. “You look the right age to be a soldier and magic needs training--”“Ebisawa-san,” he said, “I prefer not to discuss what I did during the war with people I’ve barely met.”“I’m sorry,” she said, averting her eyes. “I asked too much.”He nodded. “It’s fine.” He glanced at her. “Please don’t apologise so often.”She blinked. “Oh? I’m...”“Sorry?” he said light-heatedly.She laughed. “It’s a bad habit when I’m under a lot of stress. I’m sorry.”He sighed exaggeratedly. “Ebisawa-san.”“Sorry!”They laughed.**He parked the car in front of a palatial hotel and tossed his keys to a waiting valet. “Here we are,” he said.“The Queen Victoria hotel,” she said. “Wasn’t this the Japanese Army headquarters during the Occupation?”He nodded. “It’s five minutes away from the Central Police Station.” He tilted his head at the two shotgun-wielding Gurkhas guarding the door. “And it has armed guards. You’ll be safe here.”She smiled. “You’re really going out of your way for me.”“Part of the job,” he said.The Indian doorman swung the door open. He thanked him with a genuine smile. She didn’t say anything. They marched to the reservation desk, his head swivelling and watching everything. There were two queues of Westerners. They lined up behind the shorter one. When their turn came the clerk met them with a firm poker face.“I’m sorry sir,” she said in prim English. “The queue for Asians is over there.” She gestured at the other queue with her right hand.Lee shot her an incredulous look. Then a furious one.“You,” he said in his best Queen’s English, “a Chinese, would dare say that?”She shook her head. “I’m sorry sir. It’s hotel policy. This counter is for Westerners only.”Lee sighed. He reached into a pant pocket and produced his wallet. He flipped it open. “Is this Western enough for you?”She blinked. Nodded. “Yes sir. I apologise for the inconvenience. What room would you like?”“I need a room for one night,” he said, straightening up. “It needs to be next or close to a staircase, between the first and the fourth floors.”“Yes sir,” she said. “I have a room on the fourth floor available. Room 413.”He nodded and said, “I’ll take that.” He signed in for the key. As he took it he said to the clerk, “You really should work somewhere else.”Before she could reply he walked towards the lifts with Ebisawa in tow.“Was there a problem?” she asked.He sighed. “It was the whites-only counter.”“That’s horrible!” she said. “We never --”He stopped. Spun around. Burned her with his eyes. “‘We’?”She shook her head. “I never allowed race-segregated service.”He made a soft indistinct sound and turned around. “What did you show them?” she asked.“My private investigator license. Only British citizens can have them.”“That makes you white?”“If you’re a British citizen in the colonies, you’re automatically white.”“Oh,” she said.They reached the lifts and headed up to the fourth floor. It took them exactly three minutes to locate their room.“Wait outside,” he said. “I need to clear the room.”“Seriously?” she said. “You’re paranoid.”“Kept us alive,” he replied.With one hand, he drew the Browning. With the other, he unlocked and opened the door. Stepping in, he saw the bathroom door to the front, a closet on the right, a shoe cabinet on the left, and a glimpse of the main room beside the bathroom. He checked the closet. Empty. Moved up, swept the room. There was a king-sized bed with a facing vanity table. There were two bedside drawers, each with matching lamps. The one on the right had a clock and a telephone. There was also a coffee table and two chairs, set in front of the full-sized windows.He inspected the bathroom. Empty.“You can come in now,” he said.She did, and subtly swept the room. He wondered where she learned that from.“I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. “Or do you have to?”He shook his head. She sashayed to the toilet. He headed for the phone. He haggled with two separate operators in English and Cantonese before he got his desired connection. “Sum Kong Central Police Station. How may I help you?”He heard the toilet flush.“Please connect me to Detective Sergeant Wong Dak Yen.”“Please hold,” the operator said.He did. A few moments later, Ebisawa returned, with a full glass of water in her hand. She sat on the chair closer to him, placing her back against the corner of the room.The operator came back. “Sergeant Wong is currently out of his office. Would you like to leave a message?”“Yes. Tell him Ethan Thomas Lee called. It’s urgent. I need him to call me back. Tell him I’m at the Queen’s hotel, in the unluckiest room. He’ll understand.”“I will pass it on over the radio,” she said, unfazed.“Thank you.”He hung up. Ebisawa regarded him with an intrigued expression.“‘Ethan Thomas Lee’? Is that your full name?” she asked.He nodded. “Yes.”“Is your father Chinese?”He chuckled. “No. British. His surname is Thomas.”“Where did the ‘Lee’ come from?”“My mother,” he said, smiling. “Her parents didn’t approve of the marriage. She tried to placate them by writing my name that way.”“Did it work?”He smiled. “No.”They shared a quiet laugh. Then she took a sip of water and set the glass on the table.“So what now?” she asked.“I have a friend on the force,” he said. “We’ll arrange for protection and help you go home.”She shook her head. “I told you the police are corrupt. You must have other resources.”“I know Wong. He and his men are among the few honest cops in this city. You’ll be fine.”She sighed. Nodded. “Okay. I trust you.”He placed his two partially-expended magazines on the table. She watched him intensely. He emptied the first one, salvaging two 9mm cartridges. He fed them into the second magazine and returned both mags to their pouches.The phone rang. He answered it.“Lee,” Wong said. “I got your message.”“Wong. I have a problem and I need your help,” he said in English.Wong exhaled heavily, switching to English. “I’m at a crime scene. Mass shooting --” “--at my office? It’s connected to my problem.”Wong sighed. “I thought so. Why don’t you drop by and talk to me about it?”“Can’t do that. I’m escorting a woman. She’s on the run from Buk Hup Hui. Those hatchet men were after her.”He snorted. “Bollocks! Why would the triad send so much firepower after one woman?”“Exactly. I haven’t had the time to talk to her properly. I thought you’d be interested in her too.”“Ah. All right. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”“Thanks.”Ethan hung up and sat back down. “You were speaking English to a local?” she asked, uncrossing her legs, setting her feet firmly on the floor.“Wong likes to talk to me in English.” He shrugged. “I think he’s showing off.”She laughed. But her laugh was forced, her body a little too ready for action. A subtle aura gathered around her.“Do you speak English?”She shook her head too quickly. “Only enough to know what it sounds like.” She blinked. He kept his face straight and nodded. “Wong will be here in fifteen minutes. We can relax until then.”She nodded. “You should. You look tired.”He was. Holding and firing so much magic sapped him dry. He stifled a yawn and shook his head. “I’ll be fine.”She pushed her glass towards him. “Well, have some water at least.”He blinked. Blinked again. Looked at the lipstick stain on the glass. Looked back up. She looked away, bringing both hands to her mouth. “Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t --”He waved his hand. “It’s okay. I can get it myself.”He walked into the bathroom, leaving the door open. He emptied his bladder, ears cocked. He flushed the toilet and washed his hands with one eye on the door. He filled a glass of water from the tap and drank a little and returned to his seat.He looked at her. She looked at him. They made small talk, too aware they were a man and a woman not wearing wedding rings in a very close space. He diverted her attentions politely, and waited.Finally, someone knocked at the door. Two double taps.He walked to the door and peered through the peephole. It was Wong, alone. He opened the door and let the bespectacled plainclothes cop in.“There are two hatchet men in the lobby,” the detective hissed in English. “Were you followed?”The PI cursed and slipped on the door’s security chain. “No.”“Someone told them where you were,” Wong said.“What’s wrong?” Ebisawa asked in Cantonese, worry marring her face.“Buk Hup Hui knows we’re here,” Wong said in the same language. “They’ve sent two killers to watch the lobby, maybe more. I recognise them. They’re wanted for multiple murders.” Ebisawa swore in guttural Japanese. Switching to Cantonese, she said, “What should we do?”Ethan said, “We’ll barricade ourselves in here, call for reinforcements to clear out the triad, and get you someplace safe.” He turned to the cop. “Help me move the table.”Both men lifted the vanity table, turned it around, and set it down in front of the door. Wong sighed. “I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered.“You and me both.”The phone rang. The private eye walked over and picked it up while the detective stood by the now-blank wall.“Hello?” Ethan said.“Yong-heng!” an old jovial voice replied. “It’s been a long time.”He looked at Wong and said, “Chan Yat? How did you find me?”Wong’s eyes bugged. He drew his service revolver.Chan laughed. “Buk Hup Hui has eyes everywhere, my friend. We know the girl is with you.”“I’m handing Ebisawa Suki to the police,” he said coldly. “Tell your men to back off.”“Ebisawa Suki?” Chan chuckled. “That’s not her name. Her name is Okamoto Yuki, daughter of General Okamoto Kenji and counterintelligence agent of the Kempetai.” His heart chilled. “What?”“Surprised?” Chan’s voice lowered. “During the war, the Kempetai deployed a secret weapon against our intelligence networks: beautiful female spies. Like Miss Okamoto. She threw herself at our men, pretending to fall in love and betray her country while learning all about us. My sources said she enjoyed her job too much. Instead of leaving the dirty work to the regular Army, she killed many of our men herself. I heard she’s a deadly water witch.”“I don’t believe you,” he said, sneaking a glance at the glasses on the table.“When the yatboongwai withdrew they left a lot of materiel behind,” Chan said, using the city’s preferred insult for the Japanese. “My men raided the Kempetai headquarters and discovered some very interesting documents. We found the traitors who helped the yatboongwai. They told us all about Ms Okamoto.”“Bullshit,” he said. “If that’s true, why didn’t she just leave with the troops?”“Before the withdrawal, the yatboongwai organised several stay-behind teams. Their job was to destroy materiel and evacuate high-placed traitors. She was on one of them. We found her team, but she got away and fled underground. Until now.”“Let her go home, dailo. The war is over.”The triad dragonhead laughed bitterly. “I thought you were a smart man, Yong-heng. Her father is in Tokyo on trial for war crimes, and the Americans are hunting for Kempetai specialists like her. She’s going home to free her father so they can disappear forever. We can’t let that happen.”“Even if that’s true, there is a better way to do this.”“What? Give her to Special Branch?” He spat. “Special Branch is British. Those seigwailo ran home when our homes were burned, our women raped, and our children murdered! No. She will answer to us.”“Many seigwailo died for us. Those who didn’t helped us during the war. We--”“No. They are not blood, Yong-heng. Not Chinese. We are,” Chan said. “The war made us brothers. From one brother to another, let me make you an offer. Give her to my men downstairs. If that’s too difficult, kill her yourself and give the body to us. Do either and we will give you a thousand dollars.”“There’s a cop with me,” he said.“You killed plenty of cops during the war. What’s another?”Ethan Thomas Lee, in English, said, “Fuck you.”He hung up.“Well?” Wong asked in Cantonese.“I just declared war,” he replied.Wong sighed. “That’s just--”“Also,” he added, “Chan told me some interesting things.”His hand flashed, and suddenly the Browning was pointed at her head. Black energies roiled around him.“Lee,” Wong said slowly, deliberately keeping his weapon pointed at the floor. “Please put the gun down.”“What’s going on?” she asked. “Ethan?”“Chan told me your name is Okamoto Yuki,” Lee said.“My name is Ebisawa Suki!” she shouted. “I’m not --”“It makes sense, yes?” Lee said. “You’ve been probing me since we met. You were calm when most civilians would be panicking. Most civilians can’t tell the difference between Eastern and Western magic. You were probably feigning ignorance of English. And there’s a magic aura around you.”Her face hardened. “I --”“Shut up,” he said. “Wong, empty the glasses and dry them. She’s a water witch.”Wong grabbed the glasses and left.“Listen to me!” she said.He snorted. “No triad would send so many men and so much firepower after a comfort woman,” he said, hissing the epithet in Japanese. “The use of magic will attract the wrath of Special Branch. The triads don’t want that. But for a Kempetai agent, they might risk it.”Her face hardened. “That’s not true! I don’t --”He held up a hand. “Let me tell you something about myself,” he said, burning her with his eyes. “My father was a member of the Riot Police. He was killed during the Battle of Sum Kong. I joined the US military to hunt down the man who killed my father and destroyed my city. My home. He escaped. But you came to me.”He grinned. “I’ve only been back in the city for a month. During the Occupation, I was operating outside Sum Kong, using cut-outs and false names. The only way a Japanese would know about me, my ‘reputation’ and my ‘resources’ is if she had thoroughly penetrated the Sum Kong resistance movement.” His lips tightened. “The game is up, Okamoto Yuki.”She glared ice at him. Wong stepped out of the bathroom.Lee sighed. “But the war is over. So I’m not going to kill you.”Lee cocked his head at Wong. “Wong will call Special Branch instead. They’ll sort you out.”“How many times must I tell you?” she cried. “I am Ebisawa Suki! I just want to go home!”“Miss,” Wong said. “If that’s true, Special Branch will clear you and help you go home. It’s in your best interest to work with us.”The door burst.The remains of the vanity table slammed into Wong and knocked him down. Ethan crouched, spun round and jerked the gun up. The black energies gathered around his left forearm. A fiery phoenix appeared in front of him and he blasted it with a dark bolt. It shattered, revealing two men with pistols.He pointed, fired and launched himself at the bed. They fired back. He landed on the mattress and fired and then he realised they weren’t standing any more. He sat up and saw both men on the floor. One of them twitched so Ethan shot him in the head. Then the other.The Browning’s slide locked back. Empty.He ejected the empty mag, reached for a fresh one. The woman dashed past him.“HEY!” he shouted. “STOP!”She didn’t. A globe of blood levitated from the corpses. He swore and launched off the left side of bed and curled up. The globe exploded into a flechette storm, destroying the bed and missing him by millimetres.He got up and reloaded. Leaving the room, he scanned the corridor and saw the stairwell door swinging. He burst through, heard footsteps echo below him. The stairs ran anticlockwise. He switched his Browning to his left hand and peeked down the guardrail. He caught a glimpse of the woman and fired two snap shots at her. Missed.He dashed down the stairs, black eldritch energies dripping from his right hand. On the second floor, he saw a small sphere of blood hanging in the air. He flung up his hand and a black screen materialised, just as the blood-bomb exploded into high-pressure shrapnel. The shield disintegrated some of them. The rest buried themselves into the walls and floor.He screamed as though in pain, trailing off in a wet gurgle. More footsteps, going down. He silently treaded his way down the stairs, avoiding the shards. On the first floor, he heard the ground-floor exit open, and close. Arriving at the ground floor, he saw a large puddle of blood on the floor. He switched the gun to his right hand, took a deep breath, and opened the door.He emerged into the lobby, and started scanning. He spotted her immediately. She was about twenty feet away, walking towards the exit. He knew that sashay anywhere. Holding his pistol low, he closed the distance.At five feet he brought the Browning up and --“GUN! HE’S GOT A GUN!” a woman screamed.Okamoto Yuki spun around. A swarm of transparent slivers condensed around her. He pulled the trigger.Twice.She dropped, falling amidst a spray of ice chips.He walked up to her. Her chest was a bloody mess. She looked up and coughed blood. The ice moved.He shot her in the head.He looked up and saw the Gurkhas levelling their shotguns at him. He slowly placed his pistol on the ground and raised his hands.**The police held him for many long hours. Then they brought him into an interview room, where he recounted his story to a detective constable who just happened to be one of Wong’s men. At the end of the tale, the cop closed his notebook, pursed his lips and nodded at Ethan.“I’ll have to keep your gun and ammo,” the detective said. “But it’s routine. The shootings will go down as self-defence. You can get your stuff back tomorrow.”Ethan nodded. “Thanks. How’s Sergeant Wong?”“He’s in hospital with a concussion. He’s expected to recover fully.”“Is Special Branch getting involved?”He smiled. “We told them this was a straightforward crime, so Special Branch has no jurisdiction. They saw our way of thinking.”Ethan chuckled. “Thanks.”“You are free to go,” the detective said. “But first...someone wants to see you.”“Who?”The cop sighed. “A mutual friend I can’t chase away.”Lee sighed too. “Show him in.”The detective left. An old man entered. He was barely five feet five but walked like a giant. He took the cop’s seat and smiled at Lee.“Yong-heng,” Chan said. “At last we meet again.”Lee nodded. “Why so cold, Yong-heng?” he asked. “I thought we were blood brothers.”Ethan Thomas Lee flattened his lips. “The war is over, dailo.”Chan shook his head. “For you, the war ended yesterday. For me, it ends when all debts are paid.”Lee sighed. “You know I can’t stop you, and I know you won’t listen.”Chan laughed. “Oh, you know me well. Here, I have a gift for you.”He slowly reached into his breast pocket and held out a red packet.“You killed Okamoto Yuki,” Chan said. “Here is the bounty I promised.”“No,” Lee said. “I am not a hit man. I don’t take blood money.”Chan smiled and kept the red packet. “Very well.”Chan’s face turned serious. “I want you to know that no harm will come to you from me or my men. Not over this.”Lee blinked. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but why?”Chan’s eyes twinkled. “It was...a misunderstanding. I made that very clear to my men. There is no profit in being enemies with a dangerous man like you.” Then his eyes hardened to pitiless stone. “But I don’t give second chances.”Lee nodded. “I understand. Thank you.”Chan brightened immediately. “Good, good. Yong-heng, you know my organisation prizes men loyal to China. If you ever need work...”“No thank you,” Lee said. “It’s very gracious of you, but my allegiances are not with China.”“Oh?” Chan frowned. “With whom then? Your queen?”Ethan Thomas Lee shook his head. “No. She’s never been my queen. My heart lies with this city. Sum Kong. She’s like me, born of East and West, but neither.”“I see.” Chan nodded, standing up. “Well, it’s been good to see you again. If you need to talk to me, you know how to reach me.”Chan left.Ethan Thomas Lee Yong Ji stood and said to the empty room, “Don’t count on it.”
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