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Thread: Always & Forever

  1. #21
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 20 – Lost

    Tae was currently sitting in one of the three enormous rooms at Zian Ming Convention Center. The entire building was reserved for the auction and only a selected few reporters were allowed inside to cover the event. Everyone else had to remain outside for further information. There were approximately sixty people in each of the rooms, but surprisingly, it was dead quiet in the building. Two rows of chairs formed a half circle in the room and each guest was assigned a seat. Everyone was doing their best to gather as many points as possible while scribbling down lists of facts on their note cards. They were allowed fifteen minutes to assess each artifact on display.

    Of the three categories, jewelry, paintings, and porcelain ceramics, Tae had decided to participate in paintings first. He was fairly knowledgeable in the subject; therefore, he had been able to easily identify the first two paintings. Now, there was a look of deep concentration on his face as studied the image hanging five feet in front of him.

    It was a black ink drawing of a bamboo forest set on a long hanging scroll canvas. It was truly a superb piece of work. Each brushstroke appeared to have been carelessly splashed on, yet the artist was able to convey a subtle presence of peace and the tranquil signs of life. Staring at the picture, one can feel the underlying calmness that the artist wanted to portray. This style was most likely done in the Song period around late 13th century. However, he was not so certain about the origin of the artist. Most like an unknown painter.

    Meanwhile, in the ceramics department, Ruby was in a lousy mood. She was messaging her temple with her fingertips as she racked her brain for any idea on the source of materials used to craft the figurine on display. She had been pondering over the one foot tall, porcelain statue of a lion for nearly ten minutes and it was giving her a headache.

    This totally sucks! She thought to herself. I feel like a teenager taking a history exam back in high school all over again. I hate taking tests! I hate this contest! And I hate Tae Leung! When is this damn thing going to be over?! I’m sooooo tired. What I wouldn’t give to be able to return home, lie down on my bed, and take a long, restful sleep. Oh my bed… I miss my warm, fluffy, comfortable bed.

    An hour later, she could barely contain her excitement as she grinned widely. The last item was finally brought out. Yesssssss! Yesssssss! Another fifteen minutes to go! After the auction, I’m home free! Yippeeee! Yippeeeee! Tehehehehe. Warm bed… wait for me… here I come!

    With an abrupt change in disposition, she started to analyze the white ivory plate with interest. It was a fantastic piece of glazed artwork that was still in perfect condition. There were hand painted blue orchids on the rim that served to magnify the delicacy of the plate. Measuring about fifteen inches in diameter, it was a fairly large piece. She decided that it had to belong in the Ming dynasty period around late 14th century. The Ming emperors were well known for actively being involved in the production of ceramics. Most famous was the blue and white underglaze wares that were able to created expressive and naturalistic designs. The end result would be an almost translucent effect.

    After several more minutes, everyone was signaled to stop and hand in their cards. The guests were then told to stay in the lobby for the results. “Finally!” Ruby leaped up from her chair and raced out of the room. She stood stretching her back and neck. “My poor aching back,” she grumbled. She grabbed a glass of refreshment from a platter on a nearby table.

    “Hmmmm, I wonder what kind of drink this is. Tastes lemony. Not bad.” She continued sipping from her glass, savoring the flavor. Unexpectedly, she heard a derisive voice from behind her.

    “This auction really is so low class. Any dog can crawl in and stink up the whole place. I can’t believe you actually want to attend this event, Mimi.” Recognizing the voice, Ruby slowly turned around and noticed Alyssa and Mimi standing several feet behind her. Alyssa sauntered over with a look of contempt on her face.

    Not one to take an insult lying down, Ruby responded back in a fiery tone. “Really, Alyssa, you shouldn’t say such things. You may consider yourself to be a dirty canine, but your parents would definitely be hurt to hear that their daughter has suddenly changed species. Besides, this building is fairly large. Not everyone will be able to smell the cheap perfume you’re using to cover up unpleasant body odors.”

    She certainly hit a nerve. Alyssa was usually the one throwing derogatory remarks at people. With her family’s wealth and status, she could pretty much get away with verbally abusing others. Therefore, she did not take kindly to be on the receiving end of the stick. “How did you get in here?! This is an invitation only event.”

    “For your information, I have an invitation card too.”

    “How could you possibly get one? The items up for auction are all priceless artifacts. You can’t even afford a decent wardrobe, let alone bid on any of items here. You probably stole the card!” Alyssa maliciously declared.

    “Who are you calling a thief, you flat chested squid! Unless you personally handed out the invitations, don’t assume things you don’t know. Otherwise, you’ll only make an *** of yourself. Whether I can afford to bid on any of the artifacts or not is none of your damn business. Anyway, even if I did steal the card, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to run and tattle on me?” She observed the enraged look in Alyssa’s eyes and guessed her intention. “Go ahead. Hit me,” she taunted. “I’d be more than happy to pick up where we last left off.”

    Alyssa made a move to strike Ruby, but Mimi blocked her hand and held her back. She had been feeling very tensed as she witnessed the battle of wills between the two women. Not wanting to make a scene and risk the possibility of being asked to leave, she tried to pacify Alyssa.

    “She’s not worth getting mad over, Alyssa. Why argue and cause a commotion in a public place? There are reporters here eager to catch a story. It won’t be good to have your name besmirched by someone so insignificant.”

    Alyssa grudgingly listened to the advice. Before leaving, she turned her head and spoke through gritted teeth, “It’s not over yet. You better watch your back.”

    “Hmpf! Yeah, well, same goes to you!” Ruby tossed her hair over her shoulder and strutted back to the refreshment table. Rich people can be such a pain in the ***. Their parents should stop the pampered treatments and show them some real hardships in life. That should kick a few ounces of humility into their huge egos. She resolved not to let a snobby airhead gain the upper hand and spoil her good mood. She spotted mini delectable sausages lying on a dish and licked her lips hungrily. Before tossing the sausage in her mouth, she caught a glimpse of a person crouched behind the table. Curious, she took a closer look and recognized the beige hat and long, stringy hair. She rolled her eyes. “You can come out now.”

    Tae stuck his head above the table and peeked over the edge. “Is she gone?” he asked in a whisper.

    “If you’re referring to Mimi, then yes. She just left.”

    “Phew! That was a close call.” He straightened up and smoothed out the creases in his coat. He rearranged his hat and patted his beard into place.

    She regarded him in a pitiful manner. “How long have you been hiding here?”

    “Just a couple minutes. I saw Mimi and Alyssa wandering around. It was best for me to stay out of sight.”

    “I can’t believe you witnessed me being harassed and didn’t even have the decency to offer any assistance.”

    “If I remember correctly, the last time you had a confrontation with Alyssa, you stated very clearly that you didn’t need my help. I thought you could handle this all by yourself. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of her.”

    She was amazed that he could even suggest such a thing. “Me afraid of her?! That is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. I can whoop her *** and rearrange her face any day. But she’s not worth it for me to dirty my hands.”

    “I was thinking the same thing. With your intelligence and speedy reflexes, you can outsmart and outfight her without even trying. She can’t possibly hold a candle to you.”

    That statement instantly brought a sunny smile to her lips. She was reluctant to admit it, but Tae was pretty good at this flattery thing. No wonder women drop like flies at his feet. “I’m not being arrogant or anything, but you are so right. See, there lays the difference between you and me. I don’t let anyone intimidate me. Unlike you, terrorized by a mere woman.”

    “You think I like this? I’d do anything to make her leave me alone, but nothing seems to work.” He gave a dispirited sigh. “It’s difficult to be so dashing and suave. Women can’t help but love me. Still, how can I blame them for having such good tastes? It’s not easy being a top celebrity.”

    She started making gagging noises at his descriptions. “Talk about exaggeration. You’ll have to excuse me if I puke. Dashing and suave? Hah!” she scoffed. “I bet most of them are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.”

    “Say what you want. You’re just envious of my Greek god features and alluring personality.”

    “Yeah, you keep on thinking that.” She went back to the delicacies on the table.

    Tae opted to use the time fixing his disguise to make sure no one could recognize him. He shivered at the very idea of Mimi finding him. Since her arrival at Shanghai, she had been following him wherever he went. Even when he tried his best to avoid her, she still managed to discover his whereabouts. He was starting to believe she had the sense of a bloodhound.

    At that moment, there was an announcement over the loud speakers for everyone to gather in the large conference room at the rear of the building for the results of the contest. The fifteen top teams with the most points will be allowed to enter the auction. Hearing the news, Tae immediately grabbed Ruby by the shoulder. In his haste to get to the conference room, he made her drop the last slice of strawberry cheesecake on her plate.

    “Hey! My cheesecake!” She dropped down on her knees and attempted to pick it back up. “It’s still good. It’s still good. There’s just a little dirt.” Unfortunately, he dragged her away before she had a chance to touch the cake. There was a woeful expression on her face at the waste of good food. “I didn’t even get one bite.”

    Tae and the other guests anxiously wait to hear the team numbers called out. Ruby, on the other hand, was still mourning over her cake. She had always been a lover of sweets, especially cakes. She made a mental note to ask Annie to bake one later tonight for dinner. Her mouth started to water just thinking about Annie’s cooking.

    “Team nineteen… eight… thirty… seventy-five.” The list of teams was slowly announced as Tae nervously glanced down at the number seven on the label in his hand. “Come on, say number seven,” he whispered.

    It was down to the remaining two teams. “Number one hundred… and last but not least… team number seven.”

    A sense of exhilaration surged through Tae as he grabbed her by the shoulders. There was an ecstatic grin on his face. “Ruby! Did you hear that?! We made it!” he exclaimed. “I knew with you on my team we’d be able to score high enough! ”

    “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m not deaf. You don’t have to holler in my ear. Of course, we made it. I didn’t spend three years working at Mantcore Antiques for nothing.”


    “Next up is the emerald encrusted ring worn by the one and only female emperor of China, Wu Zetian. The ring is made of twenty-four carat gold with a five-carat emerald. It dates back to the late 600 b.c. and the starting amount is three hundred thousand.”

    Ruby was trying her best to stay awake, but the long day plus consuming so much food had made her quite drowsy. Her head kept tilting forward and she almost fell off her seat several times. Even the excitement of the auction wasn’t enough to interest her.

    “Do I have any other offer? Five hundred thousand going once… going twice. Sold for five hundred thousand dollars!”

    The loud conclusion to the valuable ring jolted Ruby from her sleep. Appearing rather dazed, she questioned, “Is it over? Can we go home now?”

    “No, the auction is not done yet,” Tae replied. “There are a couple more items coming up.”

    Hearing the disappointing confirmation, she yawned and placed her elbow up on the armrest. She settled her chin comfortably in her hand and went right back to the task at hand, sleeping. Meanwhile, a pair of eyes was glaring dangerously at Ruby’s back. Sitting toward the far left side of the room were Alyssa and Mimi. Apparently, they were also among the top fifteen teams to win the contest.

    “I can’t believe she managed to enter the auction. What is the world coming to that people on the pit of the social ladder can be associated with us? It’s simply detestable,” Alyssa sneered as she crossed her arms over her chest.

    Mimi attempted to ignore the discriminatory comments. She had never been particularly fond of Alyssa even though they had known each other for several years. Alyssa interacted fine with people of her own social status, but she can be quite mean to those with less prestigious backgrounds. She was also very opinionated in a hurtful way. Mimi tried not to associate too much with her, but she didn't want to be impolite when she does run into Alyssa. They had met a couple days ago at a boutique store and after some prying on Alyssa's part, she found out Mimi was attending the auction. Mimi couldn't find a good excuse not to go together. She was too timid to say no and face Alyssa's wrath.

    Mimi had planned on coming to the auction to meet Tae and spend more time with him. He was constantly busy with one thing or another. Of course, she knew that he had a packed schedule and unable to find the time to be with her. She was more than willing to forgive him. After all, if she was going to be the future Mrs. Tae Leung, she had to get use to his hectic working hours and lifestyle. She knew he was a big supporter of antiques and he was especially enamored with swords. She was positive that he would show up at the auction today. Thus, she had gone out of her way to hire two people to enter the contest with the intent of winning the sword for him. He would definitely be thrilled. Oh, she can hardly wait to see the look on his face.

    Her eyes kept drifting to the man sitting next to Ruby. He seemed very familiar. She didn’t have a chance to inspect him at a close range, but there was something about him that she couldn’t quite place her finger on. She felt like they had met before, but she was positive she would remember someone like him. She mentally critiqued his poor tastes in fashion. Evidently, the long trench coat, oversized hat, disheveled hair, and bushy beard were not making a good impression on her. Oddly, his physique reminded her of Tae, the same height and build. Mimi, you must really be losing it, she chastised herself. How can that hairy, unkempt man be Tae? She once again returned her attention to the auction.

    Tae scratched his beard while he impatiently waited for the end to draw near. The waiting and anxiety he felt had been worth it. General Zu Shang’s sword finally came into view. It was placed inside a large glass container and carried out by two people. It was more striking than he had imagined. Measuring at thirty-eight inches in length and four inches in width, it was not a large sword, yet there was a rustic, powerful aura that surrounded it. A very distinct carving of a phoenix painted in blue wrapped it around the handle of the weapon and extended five inches down to the blade. The scabbard was laid out next to the sword on a red silk pillow. It was hand made from a famous Chinese hardwood called Hua Li W. The colors appeared faded and parts of the wood were eroded. However, the beautiful golden designs of a two phoenixes soaring toward the rising sun still vibrantly stood out. The painstaking work that went into forging the ancient weapon was reflected clearly in its timeless appearance.

    “Ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to present the last item up for bid, the renowned Blue Phoenix Sword that once accompanied General Zu Shang during the early Tang Dynasty. This hand forged combat sword is still in great condition and the starting amount is at five hundred thousand dollars.”

    Tae nudged Ruby’s shoulders to wake her. After several jabs, he got her attention. “Hey, Ruby, wake up. Look, my sword is here. Isn’t it magnificent?”

    With her chin still cupped in her hand, she peeked out through half closed lids. “You woke me up for this?” She yawned and halfheartedly decided to check out the remaining item. She hated to agree with him, but the sword really was one of kind. It must have been a splendid sight to view its original form.

    She had always held an appreciation for history and ancient artifacts. With her great memory and past working experiences, she had a diverse knowledge on antiques. However, she was not a supporter of people setting prices on these timeless pieces of history. They were valuable parts of the past and should not be so callously bought and sold. Plus, it was ridiculously wasteful to splurge on such unnecessary goods.

    Her eyebrows shot up as the amount kept increasing. People were placing obscene amounts on the sword. When the bid neared its peak, she was astounded by what people were willing to pay. “One million dollars?!” she quietly uttered in complete shock. “Dang, the rich sure know how to squander money.”

    At that moment, Tae raised the tag with his team number on it and called out, “One point five million.” Mimi chose that moment to also enter the bidding war. She tapped the shoulder of the man sitting next to her and he raised his tag. “One million five hundred twenty thousand.”

    They continued back and forth, willing the other person to back out. Neither was giving in. Mimi’s actions were frustrating Tae as he kept raising the price by increments of twenty thousand. “Damn that woman! What the heck is she trying to do?! Steal my sword?! Over my dead body!”

    Ruby was not the least bit entertained by the whole situation. She wanted to put an end to all this so she can go home. She decided to voice her advice. “You don’t have to outbid her for the sword. Just let her win. I’m sure with a couple sweet words she’ll hand it over to you on bended knees.”

    “I can’t do that. I refuse to be indebted to her. Besides, Tae Leung does not spend women’s money.”

    “Great! A womanizer with principles. At this rate, we’ll never be able to leave.” She unhappily slouched back in her seat with her lips pouting out.

    Tae was determined not to be defeated so easily and stated an amount he knew Mimi could not top. “Six million.” A loud audible gasp vibrated within the room and people started talking among themselves. Many wondered about his identity and his financial background.

    Even Ruby shook her head in dismay and muttered, “I’m sitting next to a moron. Who else would spend six million dollars on a rusty piece of metal?” She clearly did not believe that any artifact was worth that price. Being frugal by nature, she preferred to consider the practical side of things. Sure, the weapon was nice and all, but what can one possibly do with it? Most likely for display purposes anyway.

    Mimi considered her dilemma. Her father had recently placed a cap on her spending and she can’t gain access to her trust funds until two more years. She didn’t even know how much the other man was willing to pay, but if she continued to increase the bid, her father would go berserk once he found out. She listened with a sinking heart.

    “Six million going once… going twice…”

    Just when everyone thought no one could beat that price, a voice hollered out, “Six million five hundred thousand dollars.” Everyone turned to the owner of the voice. Alyssa sat with a smug smile on her lips. She was the one who motioned to man sitting next to her to enter the auction.

    “Alyssa, you don’t have that much money,” Mimi pointed out.

    “Daddy will pay for it.” In a way, she was getting her revenge. She can’t strike directly at Ruby, but a friend of her enemy was also considered to be her foe. So she decided to win the sword just to spite them.

    Tae pretty much had enough. He was used to getting whatever he set his mind to, so he was not about to let two women snatch away what was rightfully his. “Ten million dollars.”

    There was a stunned look on Ruby’s face. “Are you crazy?! You’re throwing away ten million on a chipped sword? You’re letting yourself get too emotional to think clearly.”

    “Doesn’t matter. I’m getting that sword no matter the cost. Money is no object to me.”

    “Okay.” She shrugged and leaned back against the seat. “It’s your money. Just trying to help.” If he chose to be an idiot and act frivolously, then it was his problem. She wasn’t about to stick her nose where it didn’t belong.

    Alyssa’s annoyance knew no bounds. She could hardly believe she was beaten by a shaggy, long-haired, unidentified loser. Where did Ruby find him? If he was really that wealthy, she would surely have heard about him before. Well, there was plenty of time for payback in the future. Plus, she wasn’t too interested in that ugly sword anyway. With nobody left to counter Tae’s offer, he was announced the winner. Irritation surged through Alyssa as she stood up and straightened her dress.

    “This event is so overrated. I should have known. It’s so beneath me to even step foot in here.” Seeing Mimi still in her seat, she questioned, “You coming, Mimi?”

    “You go on ahead. I want to check out some of the other antiques.”

    “Whatever.” Mimi stared after Alyssa and noted that even her walk emitted an air of haughtiness.

    Meanwhile, the winners of the items up for auctions were asked to fill out paperwork in the office on the second floor. After Tae finished signing all the paperwork, he went into the adjoining room where his precious sword was temporarily kept. Ruby was too busy checking out the decorations in the room to pay much attention to him. She suddenly felt a light tap on her shoulder. A quick turn of the head and she noted the person beside her. “What are you still doing here? And where’s your *****y friend?”

    “She already left. And technically, she isn’t my friend. Sorry about earlier. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I kinda backed her up.”

    “Eh, no offence taken. I should be the one apologizing for placing you in the crossfire. If you didn’t pull her away, I might have resorted to real violence and remove a couple of her organs.”

    Mimi giggled good-naturedly. “By the way, I don’t think we have been formally introduced.” She extended her right hand. “I’m Mimi Lo.”

    “Ruby Lin. Nice to meet you.”

    As they shook hands, Mimi inquired, “Where’s your friend?”

    Ruby scanned around her and couldn’t find any traces of Tae. “That’s funny. He was here just a minute ago. Oh well, he can take care of himself.”

    Mimi hesitated before going forward with her request. “I know this may sound rude, but when you do see him, could you please ask him if he’s willing to sell the sword to me? I will definitely compensate him well. I just need some time to gather more money. I really want to get that sword for Tae. It would make him so happy.”

    Ruby felt bad for not revealing the truth to the poor, lovesick girl. Her pursuit in the name of love was quite applaudable in a scary, psychotic sort of way. Ruby decided not to give her false hope. It would only hurt her more in the long run. “I don’t think my friend will sell his sword. Yup, you’ll have to pry it out of his cold, dying hands.”

    Mimi was extremely disappointed. “In that case, I guess I’ll have to look for another gift. Thank you anyway,” she said in a dejected voice.

    “No problem. You take care.” When she was out of sight, Ruby glanced around the room one last time. Since she didn’t see Tae anywhere, she headed toward the exit. Just as she stepped out of the building, she heard a sound around the corner.

    “Pssssssst, over here!” It was coming from behind the trashcan. She saw a head gradually poked out and furtively glanced around.

    “How did you get out here so fast?”

    “I took the back exit.”

    “Must you be so scared? You’re in a disguise for goodness sake. She can’t recognize you. Even if she could, she’s not going to eat you alive.”

    “You don’t know that for a fact.” After verifying that it was safe, he stepped out of his discreet hiding spot. “Okay, I think we can leave now.”

    She shrugged and walked toward one of the taxis parked along the streets. He tapped her shoulder. “Where are you going?”

    “Take a taxi home. You don’t need me anymore, so there’s no reason for me to ride with you.”

    “Says who? Mimi might be following us. I need you as my barrier.”

    “You’re nuts! I’m not getting on that motorcycle again. If you’re a paranoid freak, then that’s your problem.” She made an effort to run away. Alas, her fate was sealed. She barely took two steps before he easily hiked her over his shoulder. She was kicking and yelling obscenities in his ears.

    “Tae Leung! I demand that you put me down this instant!” she cried out. “I don’t want to go on that motorcycle anymore! Let me go, you brute! Help!” He was totally oblivious to her screaming and casually walked on.


    “Are we almost there yet? I’m tired, I’m hungry, and my feet hurt.”

    It was nightfall and Ruby was bone-weary as she slumped along behind Tae. In an attempt to get home faster, he had taken a detour from the normal streets through an unpaved road. She was not familiar with the streets of Shanghai and depended on him for directions. She assumed he knew where he was doing. The ride on the bumpy road was making her queasy so she had her eyes closed most of the time. When she finally opened her eyes, she was astonished to see that they were in some kind of forest. As luck would have it, the motorcycle broke down and neither of their phones had receptions in the dense forest. They ended up ditching the vehicle. One good thing was that Tae had a working flashlight in the trunk of the motorcycle. At least they weren’t completely in the dark.

    “Where on earth are we going? We have been walking around in circles for hours. We’re lost, aren’t we?! I knew it!”

    “We are not lost,” he confidently refuted. “Quit worrying. I know exactly where we are.” Shit! We’re lost. Maybe I should have turned left at the last corner. I could have sworn there was another road somewhere around here. This is not a good sign. Damn! Where’s a phone when you need one?

    “We’re in the middle of nowhere, you blundering fool!”

    “I don’t see how yelling at me will help our situation,” he calmly responded.

    “We wouldn’t have a situation in the first place if you had acted like a rational human being and taken the regular streets,” she irately accused. “I told you to let me take a taxi home. Now, we’re lost in the woods and probably going to be half eaten by wild wolves!”

    “There are no wild wolves in this part of China.”

    She refused to set aside her worries. “How do you know? They could be lurking behind some bushes, waiting for the right moment to leap out and attack us. We’ll be devoured with nothing left but a few scraps of meat and a couple of bones. That is unless they decide to swallow us whole. Oh, no one will ever see us alive again!”

  2. #22
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 21 – Only A Dream

    Darkness blanketed the city while the silence of the night was occasionally disrupted by crickets chirping their usual songs. Every so often, a dog was heard barking, creating another source of distraction in the air. Dressed in total black, Kevin crouched immobile behind several large bushes on a hilltop overseeing a small, polished building. Every night for the past week, he had staked out in the cold, awaiting the exchange he knew would take place at Jeng’s Antique. It was just a matter of time before they show up. He ignored his cramped muscles and the frosty autumn weather. His patience proved vastly rewarding. A black Mercedes slowly pulled into view.

    Kevin silently picked up his camera and zoomed into the scene below. He took snapshots of all the individuals. Two men in dark suits stepped out. Each was holding a briefcase and appeared to be waiting for someone. There were still two men sitting in the car. As his eyes focused on the figure sitting in the back seat of the Mercedes, his face grew stony and his fingers tightened on the camera. Several minutes ticked by and the headlights from an oncoming vehicle shone brightly as it approached the building.

    Looking through his night vision binoculars, Kevin recognized the man getting out of the truck. Bowie Jeng also known as Old Man Jeng was a short, chubby man near his fifties. With a round semi-balding head, leery eyes, and blotchy skin, he wasn’t the most pleasant looking individual. Apparently, he came alone and was carrying a large briefcase. The men opened their briefcases for Bowie’s inspection. Neatly placed inside were five rows of thickly packed currency. Jeng nodded his head and opened his briefcase. A dozen plastic bags filled with a snowy substance filled the interior. He allowed one of men to inspect the goods. The man used a small knife to cut open one bag and dabbed his index finger inside. He licked the substance off his finger and turned toward the Mercedes to give a quick nod.

    Even though he was not able to listen to their conversation, Kevin knew they were exchanging cocaine. They had to verify the quality before accepting the goods. It was the usual steps in these kinds of dealings. As quickly as they came, both vehicles sped away from the scene.

    Kevin placed his equipments in his backpack and made sure to leave no trace of his presence behind. He had proof of the Red Scale Gang drug dealings, but the evidence would only incriminate a lowly dealer. That was not what he wanted. It would take a lot more to capture Dragon and his followers. Tom Ng was the important link to his target. In the meantime, he must tolerate the wait and tread carefully among the social elite in Shanghai. Dragon was known to have spies everywhere he operated.

    Besides the drugs, Stephan had also notified him that the antique store also served the purpose of storing other illegal items. Stephan was unable to figure out what they had hidden without jeopardizing his identity. There was only one way to find out, going in there himself. After making sure that nobody was around, he made his way down the hill. He hastily went through the alley toward the back of the building. He approached the door and took out a small a thin metal wire. It was actually not a very difficult task to pick the lock on the door. Within a couple seconds, he was able to step inside the building.

    He closed the door and pulled out a flashlight. He made his way to the back of the room and noticed another lock barring him from what appeared to be the storage room. This one took a little longer to open, but the problem was quickly eliminated. Opening the door, he saw columns of wooden crates densely stacked against the walls. Without wasting any time, he rummaged through his backpack and found a small handheld crane. He approached one of the crates and removed the lid. There were an old tea set and a couple of flower vases, nothing out of the ordinary. He opened another carton and found several pricey ceramic plates. A frown crinkled his forehead as he studied the interior. He decided to remove everything from crate to see what could be hidden inside.

    After he took out the plates and the cushioned foams, he stared at the empty box. He smoothed his hands along the wood and knocked on the bottom. A hollow sound vibrated to his ears. Immediately setting down his flashlight, he cranked open the piece of wood. To his dismay, there was a hidden compartment on the bottom of the crate filled with deadly semiautomatic guns. He examined the other crates and just as he expected, they also had hidden compartments. Some held more weapons and other had expensive stolen jewelry. After taking pictures of all the evidence, he placed everything back in its place and left the building.


    Tae and Ruby were still roaming around in the woods. Ruby’s legs no longer had the strength to continue and she just dropped down near a tree trunk. Tae also needed a rest and sat across from her. He had already discarded his disguise since the long walk caused him to perspire and the beard started to really itch.

    “I could use a cocktail right about now,” he wishfully stated. “And possibly a good foot massage too.”

    Her only response was a derisive snort. She was annoyed at him for getting them lost and hadn’t spoken a word in the last hour. She held him solely responsible for placing her in this horrid predicament. Instead of uselessly venting her anger, she decided it was best to save her energy to find a way out. The road he was leading them on was dark and dingy. At first, she was terrified of not knowing their location and feared the existence of violent animals. At the moment, she was beyond the point of caring. She was covered in dirt and every inch of her body was throbbing in pain. She was just too exhausted to worry about flesh eating creatures.

    He spared a glance over at her and wondered what she was thinking about. She’s most likely still silently *****ing at me for getting us lost. So I guess it’s not a bad thing that she’s mad. At least my ears can finally have some peace and quiet. I don’t see why everything is blamed on me. It’s not like I intentionally went in the wrong direction. She acts like I want to wander around in this dense forest in the middle of the night. Women are just so petty. You make one small mistake and all hell breaks loose.

    After resting for a while, Ruby suddenly remembered she had a blueberry muffin she took from the buffet table at the auction. She poked around in her purse and found a very squished muffin. It was no longer warm and didn’t look very pretty, but she figured beggars can’t be choosers. It was better than having nothing to eat at all.

    He saw the dessert in her hand and scooted closer to her. “Hey, I didn’t know you had food. Why didn’t you bring it out sooner? Can I have some?” He licked his lips with hunger showing in his eyes.

    “No. Stay away from me.” She turned around to shield the muffin from his view. She broke off several small chunks and started nibbling on them.

    “Don’t be selfish. At least throw a crumb to a starving man,” he pleaded as his hand reached out.

    She swiftly slapped his hand aside. “Get your own food, Mr. I Know Exactly Where We Are,” she coldly admonished.

    He nudged her waist with his elbow. “I’m hungry too. How about just a teeny little bite?”

    His actions prompted her to stand up and move away from him. She disregarded his miserable face. He didn’t deserve any food after what he put her through the entire day. She had been forced against her will to do him a favor and even endangered her own life by riding that monstrosity he called a motorcycle, yet not once had she heard a thank you. Now, they were miles away from civilization without a clue on how to get back. He was lucky she didn’t smash him between the eyes with a rock.

    Of course, for all her harsh words and actions, she was really a big softy inside. Even if Tae was an insensitive, clueless worm, she couldn’t bring herself to keep eating while another person was suffering in front of her. She glanced over at him and mumbled, “Men are such babies. I’m really too nice for my own good.” She broke the muffin in half and held out a piece to Tae. “Here. You can have it.”

    A big smile lit up his face as grabbed the portion from her outstretched hand. “I knew there was a warm heart beating beneath your icy façade.”

    “Yeah, yeah, hurry up and eat it before I change my mind. And wipe that ridiculous smirk off your face. I just don’t want you to pass out from hunger and make me lug your body back to the city.”

    She stood up and stretched her stiff back and neck. As her head was moving back and forth, she noticed the moonlight reflecting on something behind a tree branch. She took a tentative step forward and squint her eyes, trying to make out the object. “Hey Tae, bring your flashlight over here. I think there’s something behind the tree.”

    He swallowed the last piece of the muffin and approached Ruby. He shone the light on the object and saw that it was a white sign. They came closer to have a better view. She pushed aside the branch. There was an arrow pointing east with the words “Huan Jing - 2 Miles” painted on the bottom.

    He gleefully clapped his hands and jumped up with elation. Pointing at the sign, he exclaimed, “Ha! See, I told you we were not lost! I knew my shortcut would work! Damn, I’m good.” Puffing out his chest, he uttered in a superior tone, “And you doubted me.”

    She threw him a disgusted look. “Oh, shut up! Did you read the sign clearly? It says Huan Jing, which is a good 15 miles from Shanghai. Your shortcut stinks! We’re just fortunate that we happened to be traveling toward a town. Maybe we can find a place to rest and hail a taxi back home tomorrow morning.”

    “Will nothing cheer you up, Miss Grumpy?”

    Instead of answering, she roughly shoved him aside and stalked away. Together, they set off toward the direction the arrow was pointing to and used their trusty flashlight to guide the way. It felt like they would never reach Huan Jing, but finally the edge of the town came into view. It was a very small town with a handful of buildings and houses. There were only a few lampposts that provided some much needed light. Everything appeared very rundown and old. Even the air smelled musty. They went around searching for an inn, but couldn’t find any. Eventually, they found a shabby two-story building that didn’t look very hospitable. They saw the words, “Huan Jing Tavern” on a long, rectangular board hanging from the roof.

    “I guess this is the only inn they have,” she said. “But just looking at it gives me the shivers.”

    “We just need a place to sleep for a couple hours until morning.”

    They dragged their feet to the front door and he repeatedly rang the doorbell. After several rings, the door creaked open and a middle-aged man stuck his head out. He didn’t appear very pleased to see them. “What do you want?” he gruffly asked.

    “Hello sir,” she politely greeted. “We seemed to have lost our way. As you can see, it’s really late and we’re dead tired. Do you have any spare rooms? We just need a place to stay for the night.”

    “No vacancy. Go away and let me get back to my sleep.” He slammed the door in their faces, almost hitting Ruby on the nose.

    “How rude!” she huffed out in an insulted tone.

    “I’ll say.” Tae raised his fist and loudly pounded on the wooden door, almost dislodging it from the hinges. The man was forced to open up because they were not willing to leave.

    “Didn’t you hear me?! I said no vacancy!”

    Tae withdrew a wad of currency bills from his wallet and waved them in front of the innkeeper’s eyes. “We would really appreciate it if you could provide us with lodging for the night.”

    Within a blink of an eye, the bills were swiftly removed from Tae’s fingers. “There might be a room available.” He motioned for them to come in as he locked the door. “Follow me.”

    The innkeeper walked away counting the money. He took them inside the dimly lit house and all the way to the back of the hall. At the end was rickety door that made a creepy sound when he pushed it aside. As he turned on the switch, Tae and Ruby entered the small room. There was one full size bed in the left corner, a single table across from it, and dresser in the other corner. A yellow curtain adorned the only window in the room. The innkeeper saw them critically assessing the area. “This is all we have available. Take it or leave it.”

    “We’ll take it,” she hastily agreed. “By the way, do you have a phone we could use for a quick call?”

    “The only phone in this building is currently broken. If you want to make a call, you have to go to the local market on the edge of town.”

    “We can wait till morning, Ruby.”

    The man turned around and exited the room. All the while, Tae had been critically examining the furnishings. “This place isn’t exactly a five star hotel, but I guess it will have to do. At least everything appears to be cleaned.”

    She shook her head at him. “Quit being so picky. Be glad that we’re not stranded outside.” She made her way to the bed, took off her shoes, and lied down. He went to the other side of the bed and proceeded to also take off his shoes. She shot to a sitting position with wariness in her eyes. “What do you think you’re doing?”

    “What does it look like? I’m going to sleep.”

    She firmly shook her head. “Not on this bed, you’re not.”

    “Then where am I supposed to sleep tonight? This is the only room left.”

    “There is plenty of space on the floor.” She unsuspectingly tossed one of the pillows at him. “You can check the dresser for more sheets and blankets.”

    “What?! I can’t lay on the ground. It’s cold and hard. Why can’t we share? This bed is big enough for both of us.”

    “I don’t care if it’s the size of Hong Kong. There is no way I’m sleeping with you. I’m an unmarried, virtuous lady and I’m not about to ruin my reputation by sleeping around with men.”

    “We’re living in the 21st century, woman! Stop being such a prude,” he bit out exasperatedly. “We can set up a barrier or something. You stay on your side and I stay on my side. I swear to God I won’t touch you the whole night.”

    “That is beside the point. My virtue is at stake. You so much as place a butt cheek on this bed and I’ll rip your limbs from their sockets,” she ominously warned.

    He could tell that she wasn’t bluffing, but was very set against her decision. “Why don’t I get the bed and you can have the floor?” he suggested.

    “Because it’s your fault that we’re in this mess to begin with, so it’s only fair that I get the bed. Besides, a gentleman would offer to do the right thing.” She proceeded to check him out from head to toe. “Of course, I’m using that term loosely on you.”

    “I’m more a gentleman than you are a lady,” he grumbled while hugging his pillow.

    He gave up trying to win the argument. A wise man should know when to back off from a confrontation, especially with a tigress like Ruby. Nevertheless, he resented the unfair arrangement. It was simply appalling that he had a multi-million dollar fortune, but must resort to spending the night on the damp floor of a dinky tavern. Sauntering to the dresser, he located additional sheets and blankets on the lower shelves. He tried his best to soften the ground by placing all the sheets down, yet it remained extremely uncomfortable to lie down.

    Ruby yawned and nestled comfortably on the bed with the warm blanket secured around her body. She kept a close watch on Tae just in case he attempted to crawl up on the bed. Eventually, she lowered her guard and allowed her eyelids to slip close. She yawned again and silently dozed off while Tae continued to fitfully toss and turn for most of the night. He tried his best to find a semi-comfortable position on the hard ground. It was a long time before he was able to drop off into dreamland.


    The echoing of the footsteps on the newly polished tiles mixed in with the soft crying from the people sitting in the waiting room. However, all the noise failed to disturb the lonely figure standing in the corner. He had his head against the wall with his fists nervously clenched together. Never in his life had he been so petrified. His lips moved in silent prayers, pleading for the life of his fiancée.

    He had arrived just in time to see the paramedics wheeled her into the operation room. There were deep cuts and abrasions on her arms and face. Her body was covered in so much blood that he feared she was already dead. He violently shook his head, not wanting to face such thoughts. Even though the operation had been going on for over ten hours, he refused to lose hope.

    He desperately needed a smoke to calm his nerves. Withdrawing a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, his hands trembled as he pulled out a cigarette. Before he could light it, a nurse touched his arm and said, “Mr. Leung, you can’t smoke in the hospital.”

    “Sorry,” he muttered absentmindedly. He placed everything back in his pockets and began pacing back and forth. The wait was like a knife churning in his heart. He could scarcely believe it was for real. Everything went by in a blur. All he could remember was seeing the operation door opened and several doctors walked out. They took off their masks and approached the family.

    “We’re terribly sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Yam, but we’ve tried our best. Her injuries are just too severe. You should prepare yourself for the worst,” the head surgeon spoke in a grave tone.

    Mrs. Yam burst out into tears. The dreadful news about her daughter was too much for her to handle. She staggered a couple steps backward and fainted. Mr. Yam caught her limp body and carried her back to one of the chairs.

    Tae didn’t hear the loud weeping behind him. His hands reach out and roughly grabbed the surgeon by the collar, holding him several inches off the ground. His eyes burned with despair as he screamed, “What do you mean you’ve tried your best?! You’re a doctor! Do something! Save her!”

    “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do. She has already lapsed into a coma. It’s too late.” The surgeon tried to dislodge Tae’s grip. The other doctors and nurses gathered around and attempted to pacify his raging anger. He didn’t hear their reasoning and was no longer thinking straight. At the moment, the only concept his brain could process was that Laura’s life was endangered and no one was doing anything to help her.

    “No, damn you! It’s not too late! I don’t care what you do! Just make her better!” Tae demanded as he shook the petrified man. “I have donated millions of dollars to this hospital and all you can say is that you’re sorry?! What have you been using that money for?! If you want more money, just say so! I’ll give you anything!”

    “Tae, stop it! Get a grip on yourself!” Stephan tried to calm his brother down, but Tae shoved him away. He was cursing at the entire hospital staff for their incompetence. Stephan quickly seized one of Tae’s arms while Kevin grabbed the other. Together, they managed to wrestle him away from the surgeon. The hospital staff all scuttled out of sight. With tears streaming down his face, Tae forced himself to put his emotions under control. He wiped his eyes while standing on unsteady feet. Not knowing what to do, he silently walked out the building. Leaning against the brick wall, he finished smoking a pack of cigarettes.

    Much later, most of the people had already left. Mrs. Yam was unable to stop crying the entire time. Laura’s father took her mother back home for some rest before they return in the afternoon. Tae was seated on a chair next to the hospital bed. Laura remained motionless as she breathed through an oxygen mask. Gently picking up a bandaged hand, he placed it against his heart. It was still warm. There was life coursing through her body. All the doctors were wrong. She was just tired and needed some sleep.

    “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he whispered reassuringly. “I’ll take you to a better hospital with more competent doctors. You’ll recover in no time at all. Everything will be fine. Pretty soon, you can be up and running around again.”

    He tenderly cupped her bruised cheek as tears continued to well up in his eyes. With a smile, he resumed speaking in a heartbroken voice. “We can get married right after you get better. If you don’t want a big fancy wedding, I can arrange for a small private ceremony with just our families and close friends. You like that, don’t you? I know I’ve been focusing a lot of time on my career, but it’s only temporary. I planned on finishing my album in time for your birthday next month. It was supposed to be your birthday present. I wanted it to be a surprise because those songs were written for you. But we still have time.” He nodded his head, as if in a daze. He would give anything to make her open her eyes again.

    “We can take a long vacation, just the two of us. We’ll have a wonderful life together with a houseful of beautiful children. You always said you wanted to live in the country since it’s more peaceful. All right, if you promise to wake up soon, we can move to the country.”

    When she didn’t respond to his words, he started to emotionally break down. He was uncontrollably sobbing as he hugged her broken body. “Can… can you hear me, Laura? You can’t leave me now… I need you. Remember, you told me we would grow old together. You can’t go back on your words. I won’t let you. Please… please wake up.”

    She suddenly arched her back and started gasping for air. The heart monitor was emitting rapid beeping noises. Terrified, he leaped to his feet and called out for the hospital staff. “Nurse! Doctor! I need help!” He turned back to his fiancée to see her violently trembling. “No! Laura!”

    Tae’s eyes popped open and he bolted upright. He was covered in a cold sweat as he took a good look at his surroundings. Leaning forward, he covered his face with his hands. He took deep breaths, trying to calm his racing heartbeats. Reality gradually started to sink in. It had all been a dream. He was reliving the events leading up to Laura’s death. It had felt so real he actually believed she was still alive. If only the car accident and her death was a dream. He knew he should be moving forward with his life, but no matter what he did, her image was forever lodged in his mind.

    Releasing a long sigh, he glanced over at Ruby to see that she was fast asleep. Her arms were spread apart and her mouth was left wide open. He stared down at her and had to smile. Surprisingly in her slumber state, she reminded him of Laura. He had never noticed it before, but her high cheekbones, full lips, and smooth rosy complexion closely resembled his dead fiancée. If he didn’t know better, he would assume they were sisters.

    The notion that they could be related was almost laughable. Their personalities were polar opposites of each other. Ruby was like an active volcano, fierce and easily ready to erupt. It was fun and exciting to be in her presence and she kept him constantly guessing what she would do next. He enjoyed teasing her to no ends because her reactions were always priceless. He knew she didn’t give a damn about his wealth or celebrity status, so staying by her side allowed him the opportunity to be himself.

    On the other hand, Laura was the personification of a tranquil, flowing stream, so fragile and lovely to behold. She had a presence that was very affecting. In all the years that he knew her, she had never once raised her voice in anger to him or anyone. She had a way of talking to people that made them listen to her. She could always find something good to say about everything. People who had the lucky chance to know her were touched by her serene nature and awed by her elegance. And he had loved her with all his heart.

    Taking out his wallet, he unzipped a compartment. A mint green silk handkerchief was neatly folded inside. He pulled it out and sadly gazed at it. Two red letters, T and L, were skillfully embroidered at the corner. They intertwined at the center. It was a gift Laura had made for him. She said the T stood for him and the L stood for her. She made him promise to keep it in a safe place and till this day, it had never left his side. He hugged the piece of silk against his chest. “You will always remain by my side, Laura.”

  3. #23
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 22 – Baby Sparrow

    Gradually lifting her lids, Annie squinted against the sunlight streaming in from the windows. She had fallen asleep at the dinner table while she and Ada waited for Ruby to return last night. Realizing that she had used her arms as a makeshift pillow, she lifted her head and rubbed her sore muscles. She blinked several times to clear her vision and noticed Ada hovering over her. One glance at the plates filled with cold food on the table and her forehead wrinkled with worry. “She still hasn’t returned yet?”

    A distressful sigh came from Ada as she pulled out a chair. “No. I waited till two o’clock this morning before dozing off on the sofa.”

    “This isn’t good. Where could Tae have taken her?”

    “We contacted pretty much everyone who might have an idea on his whereabouts, but no one seems to know.” Ada’s brows suddenly shot up in alarm. “You don’t think something terrible happened to them, do you? I mean, she did left her cell phone here, but she could still use the local pay phone. She should know that we’d be worried.”

    Annie waved her hand at her friend. “Stop jumping to conclusion. You’re scaring me. I’m sure they’re both fine. Let’s not freak out over nothing.” She was chewing her bottom lip in concern. After awhile, she stopped that and started biting her nails. She nervously spoke aloud, “There has to be a good reason why it’s been over twenty-four hours and we still haven’t heard from her. Sure the streets are packed with motorists and bicyclists, not to mention pick pockets and perverts, but she has Tae with her.”

    They both stared at each other. The longer they waited, the more they fretted. Each was envisioning all sorts of mishap that could happen. “That’s it. I’m calling the police.” Annie stood up and rushed over to the phone on the kitchen counter.

    Ada was anxiously trailing behind. “Ask them whether we need to bring picture identification. Maybe I should take some of her clothes down to the station so the search dogs can recognize her scent.”

    “While you’re at it, grab her shoes too. With her stinky feet, one whiff of the shoes and there is no way the dogs won’t find her.”

    “Got it.”

    Ada was on her way to the bedroom while Annie picked up the receiver and started dialing. Ada ran out with a bunch of clothes in her arms. Much to her dismay, the front door opened and she collided into Ruby. Both girls fell to the floor with a loud thud.

    The commotion caught Annie’s attention. “Where have you been all this time?!” she questioned while pulling them up.
    “Yeah! We were so scared something happened to you. We were just about to file a police report.” Ada stared dumbfounded at her sullied attire. “How did you get so much dirt on you?”

    Ruby staggered over to the dining table and slumped down on a chair. “I am so exhausted!” Resting her head on the table, she saw the food on the table and reached out for a plate. “Food!”

    Annie yanked the pork ribs from Ruby’s fingers. “Let me heat the food up first.” She stacked up several plates and went to the microwave.

    “You have a lot of explaining to do missy. Where have you been?” Ada inquired

    With a tired yawn, she summed up her eventful day. “Thank the Lord we didn’t get eaten by wild animals or murdered by homicidal maniacs. In conclusion, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life.”

    “Look on the bright side. At least Tae won’t be bothering you today. He must be bone tired as well. Since he doesn’t have to film any scenes today, he most likely won’t even be on set.”

    Annie took the plates out of the microwave and set them in front of Ruby. “Why don’t you finish eating and go get some rest.”

    “Yeah, I’ll tell the production manager you have some personal errands to do. You can always make up the time later. I’m sure it won’t be that busy today.”

    Ruby was eating so fast that she was having difficulty swallowing everything. Annie pounded her back. “Slow down. You’re going to choke.”

    “Annie, you’ve outdone yourself this time. This leftover food is delicious. What would I do without you?”

    “Probably starve to death since you’re so particular with what you eat,” Annie pointed out.

    Ada suddenly frowned and checked her watch. “Annie, didn’t you say you have an appointment with Mrs. Wong in an hour?”

    “Oh shoot! I totally forgot.” She grabbed her keys and searched for her purse. “Talk to you guys later. Gotta catch a taxi.”

    After going back to her apartment and quickly changing into a new black and white pinstriped suit, Annie was ready for her meeting. She definitely wanted to make a good impression. This was a huge break for her career. Her dream of opening a restaurant might come true sooner than she thought. She arrived at a huge, glass building and took the elevator to the top floor fifteen stories up. She was told to wait in Mrs. Wong’s office. She took the time to survey the surroundings. The decorations in the large room were very clean and tidy. There was also a lovely scent coming from the pink orchids placed on the corner of the desk. Several minutes went by before there was a knock on the door and a woman wearing a conservative gray dress stepped in. She was in her late forties with a few wrinkles on her face. Her hair was pulled back into a neat chignon.

    “Annie, it’s so good to see you again. I’m terribly sorry I couldn’t make our meeting last time.” She affectionately shook Annie’s hand. “Please, have a seat. So how was your trip up here?”

    She sat down on a cushioned chair. “Very good, actually. I was expecting the long train ride to be rather uncomfortable, but everything went smoothly.”

    “How do you like the apartment? If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to let me know.”

    “The accommodations are wonderful, Mrs. Wong. I can’t ask for a better working environment.”

    “Great. I just want to take a couple minutes to go over the minor details of the wedding. As you already know, there are close to four hundred guests. Some are close family members while a majority of the guests are my husband’s business associates. The groom’s side also invited many influential people. Everything has to be flawless. Many of my friends have given you such high praises that I don’t expect to be disappointed. However, there are some issues that I want you to prepare for. Melissa is adamant about being involved in the decision-making, but she has objected to every single detail that the previous wedding planners suggested. To be honest, we have hired six well-known wedding planners and five caterers. Yet they all ended up quitting. My daughter can be rather difficult sometimes, but she has never been this hard to please. She really is a sweet girl. I think it’s the stress of the wedding that got her so moody lately.”

    “I understand. Every bride wants her special day to be picture perfect. So it’s only natural for her to be a little high-strung. I'm sure we can get around this problem. That is if it even poses to be a problem." Just as she finished her statement, the office door swung open and a tall lanky teenager sauntered in.

    She had short-cropped hair that was dyed light brown and small almond shaped eyes. Her lips were wide and her nose was a tad big for her face. There was nothing extraordinary about her features. However, she may be lacking in the looks department, but she really had great tastes in fashion. Wearing an expensive knee length black skirt, blue silk blouse, black boots, an elegant strand of diamond necklace, and matching earrings, her attire screamed wealth. If Annie was not mistaken, this girl was the nineteen-year-old Melissa Wong.

    She coolly disregarded Annie's presence and walked passed her. "Mother, you wanted to see me?"

    "Yes. Melissa, I'd like to introduce you to Annie Man. She will be in charge of all your wedding preparations. She's a terrific chef as well."

    “Another wedding planner?" Dislike crossed her features.

    Annie stood up and extended her hand. "It's great to finally meet you, Melissa. I've heard so much about you." The smile on her face disappeared when Melissa ignored her and took a seat on the edge of a beige recliner.

    "That’s Miss Wong to you. I prefer to be addressed more formally.” She announced with an air of hostility. She crossed one leg over the other and fluffed her hair. “I’ve never heard of you before. What kind of credentials do you have?" The question was coldly directed at Annie.

    Slightly taken aback at such forwardness, she continued to smile as she answered in a steady tone. “Miss Wong, I’m more than happy to give you an overview of my experiences. I started out working for a hotel for two years, learning about planning and management. I obtained a degree from Hong Kong Culinary College. I was later hired as a chef at The Rose Garden. It’s a medium size restaurant for middle class dining. Just recently, I decided to open my own catering business. I have catered to both small and large festivities. They range from birthday parties to corporate events.”

    Melissa yawned loudly. “Boring. Can you make that any more tedious? You don’t seem to possess the experience of a quality wedding planner.” She disapprovingly shook her head. “Mother, I want my wedding to be the grandest affair of the year. How can you employ some unknown, low class caterer like this? What would people think? I will be a laughingstock with my friends.”

    “Melissa, quit complaining,” Mrs. Wong said exasperatedly. “You have found faults with everyone I hired. I’m at my wit’s end with you. Annie is very competent in her work. I should know. I attended two of the parties she planned. The wedding is in three months and I don’t want you to cause any more trouble. I suggest you get your act together.”

    Melissa shot to her feet with belligerence. It was obvious she didn’t like to be told what to do. Her true color was rapidly being shown before Annie’s eyes. “You don’t love me anymore! My opinions and feelings are never considered to be important. It’s going to be the biggest day of my life and I can’t even make a couple insignificant requests? All you and Father ever care about is this dumb company! I hate you!” After the huffy outburst, she stormed from the room and slammed the door on her way out.

    Difficult was obviously an understatement. Evidently, Mrs. Wong’s daughter was used to being pampered, but Annie chose to keep her mouth shut. She wasn’t hired to make judgments. Compared to the people she had worked for in the past, this was going to be a walk in the park. Wouldn’t it? Well… maybe it won’t be that easy, but like it or not, she was prepared to do her best. She had never been a quitter and she was not about to start now.

    Mrs. Wong gave a heavy sigh. “That went better than I thought.” She stood up and went to the mini-bar in the corner. “Would you like something to drink? Coffee, perhaps?”

    “Yes, thank you. I’d love some coffee.”


    The sun shone brightly despite the low temperatures. Annie wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck and took a deep breath of fresh air. It was such a nice day that she decided to walk around a bit before heading back to the apartment. She made her way along the streets holding several binders tucked under her arms. They contained details and contact information on what Melissa and the Wong family wanted for the wedding. Everything ranging from the style of clothing, flowers, color of the decorations, entertainment to the type of food to be served. Annie also found out that the young bride-to-be was also a very picky vegetarian. Add another trait to complicate matters. She inwardly sighed, wondering what kind of dishes would satisfy everyone.

    There was a community park nearby that had a small pond in the center. Since it was in the middle of a weekday, there were few people around. Annie took in the peaceful scene with appreciation. It really had been a while since she took the time to simply relax. She took the opportunity to unwind and walked along a dusty road leading into the dense trees. The scenery was breathtaking. Out of nowhere, a helpless chirping disrupted the stillness of the atmosphere.

    She glanced around trying to find the source of the noise. It appeared to being coming from behind a large oak tree a couple feet away. Curiosity got the better of her. As she approached the tree, the chirping became louder. To her surprise, a baby sparrow was lying on a thick patch of grass and flapping its small wings. It had recently grown all its feathers and was a plump, adorable image to behold. Annie stared up at the tree and noticed a small nest at the junction of a thick branch near the top. Apparently, the bird had fallen from its nest and was very fortunate the grass cushioned its fall. The vulnerable creature was still too young to fly back up as it pitifully cried out.

    She crouched down and carefully scooped the bird up. She gently smoothed the feathers along its back. “You poor thing. There, there, I’ll help you get back to your nest.”

    Cuddling the bird against her chest, she stood up and estimated the height of the tree. Her hands began to perspire just thinking about climbing up. Her fear of height was starting to kick in. She had an intense urge to put the sparrow down and back away from the area. Unfortunately, she stared into its eyes and was reeled in with sympathy. She knew from experience what it felt like to lose a home overnight and she couldn’t bring herself to abandon the bird in its plight. It was doubtful there was an animal shelter nearby. If she didn’t place the baby sparrow back in the nest in time for the mother bird’s return, it was possible the mother would abandon the nest. Leaving it all alone and unguarded was too dangerous. If she didn’t offer help, who would? With a long sigh, she made up her mind to climb up. She would consider the consequences later.

    Sitting down, she took off her socks and shoes. It would be easier to climb barefooted. After placing them neatly against the trunk, she checked her purse. Satisfied to find plenty of space for the bird, she zipped up the purse and pulled the strap over her head. The purse laid on her side with the strap crossed diagonally over her chest. She proceeded to the lowest branch and used it as leverage to climb up.

    “Just don’t look down and you’re going to be fine. It’s really not that bad,” she muttered to herself. “You can do it, Annie. Think of the poor bird.” It was a frightening climb, but she forced herself to keep going while being careful not to jostle the purse too much. Her fingers grabbed one branch after another. She gradually went higher and higher until she was finally within arm’s reach of the nest. With her back against the tree and her legs dangling on either side of a branch, she unzipped the purse and was relieved to find the sparrow was not harmed during the climb. She took it out and placed it back in the nest. A bright smile curved her lips as she witness the jovial bird. How nice it must feel to finally be home.

    Her smile turned into a frown when she realized she was hanging two dozen feet in the air. She committed the mistake of looking down. Her whole body trembled as she shut her eyes and sagged back against the tree for support. “Oh Annie, what did you get yourself into this time?” It was impossible for her to make her way down again. She fearfully sat frozen on the spot. Now was the time to panic.

    “Help!” she loudly shouted. “Is there anyone down there?! I’m stuck on a tree and I can’t get down! Please?! Anybody?! Helllllllllllllllllpppppppppppppppppp!” It was no use. There was not a soul around.

    “Oh, why do I always have to be so softhearted?” The bird cheerfully chirped at her. “At least you’re home safe and sound. Poor me. I’m stuck now. The next time that I see another animal in need of help, I will definitely not put myself in the same predicament.” Her features drooped and she sadly added, “If there is a next time.”

    Half an hour passed by and still no sign of help. “Who would have thought that my unexpected demise would be up in a tree?” While she was considering her lousy situation, a voice hollered out. “Hello? Is someone up there?”

    She could hardly believe her own ears. “Yes! Yes! I’m up here! Help me!” She raised her brows in surprise when she located the owner of the voice. “Kevin! I have never been happier to see anyone in my life. You are definitely a sight for sore eyes.”

    Sure enough, Kevin was standing right below her and looking more striking than any man had a right to be. In a white long sleeve polo shirt and dark green dress pants, he appeared very comfortable, but it didn’t diminish his dark, magnetic charms. Once again, he had emerged out of nowhere to come to her aid. Instead of appearing dignified and presentable, she was dangling from a tree… how embarrassing.

    “Annie? How did you get up there?”

    “Never mind that! Just figure a way to get me down.”

    He took a tour around the tree and contemplated her position. “It doesn’t seem too high up.” He suddenly smiled and said, “Okay, I have solution.”

    She waited for him to continue, but when he didn’t, she asked, “Well, what is it? Don’t just stand there. Tell me.”

    “Jump. I’ll catch you.”

    She glared at him like he had grown a second head. What kind of solution was that? If she was in the condition to jump, she would have already done so. The height was making her dizzy and it took all her strength just to hold on to the branch. Movement was certainly not an option she preferred. “Not that I don’t trust your abilities, but I’d rather not risk my life to find out. Do you have another bright idea that doesn’t involve me leaping to my death?”

    “I won’t let you get hurt,” he reassured her with raised arms. “Go ahead and jump. I’m ready for you.”

    Somehow, she was not too encouraged to follow his advice. She wasn’t about to let go no matter what he said. “Kevin, no offence, but your idea sucks. Can’t you find a ladder or something to climb up here and get me down?”

    “I don’t think a regular ladder will reach you, but I’ll go seek help. I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.” He turned around and started to leave.

    Go? Where could she go? It wasn’t like she had a choice at the moment. The idea of her stranded again was nerve-racking. She wanted to get down, but also didn’t want to be alone again. Before she could object to him leaving, she heard a low snapping sound. One glimpse in front of her and she was on the verge of hyperventilating. Her weight was clearly too much for the limb to handle for an extended amount of time and it was starting to break off.

    “Ah! The branch is breaking! Do something quick!” she screamed as the limb snapped in half. Kevin blanched and rushed forward to catch her. However, her fall was so unexpectedly that he wasn’t ready. The limb along with her flailing body collapsed on his back, using him as a cushion for the fall. He was immediately knocked to the ground.

    “I thought you said you were going to catch me.” She rolled off him and checked herself for any bruising or cuts. Glad to find no injuries, she focused her attention on the body next to her. She nudged his arm. “Kevin, you can get up now.” When he remained motionless, she started to frown and turned his body over. His eyes were closed and she wasn’t sure whether it was the sunlight or not, but he appeared rather pale.

    “This isn’t funny. Stop fooling around.” There was a note of alarm in her voice as she shook him harder. Again, no response from him. She worriedly placed her ear against his chest. She released a sigh of relief to find the heartbeat was strong and steady. He was also breathing normally. But why wasn’t he waking up? Was he injured somewhere and she didn’t know it? She was becoming more frightened by the second. She frantically smoothed her hands over his arms and legs to make sure nothing was fractured. Everything was intact, no broken bones. Next she checked his head for any swelling. She gasped out loud when her fingertips grazed over a large bump near the back of his head. He must have suffered a concussion.

    She continued to shake him in desperate hope that she could get some type of reaction from him. Tears quickly sprang to her eyes. “Kevin, please wake up. Don’t scare me like this.” She threw herself on top of him and tightly hugged his body. “I’m so sorry!” she sniffled noisily. “I knew my stupid fear of heights was a problem I should overcome, but I assumed it was harmless. If only I had the guts to climb down, you wouldn’t be hurt. Oh, why do you always have to be a hero and save me? I’ll never be able to forgive myself if anything happens to you.”

    The possibility that he would permanently be unconscious sent cold chills down her spine. She wanted to tell him how much she cared for him and that the main reason she came to Shanghai was to see him. Her body was shaking with unrestrained emotions and she couldn’t get another word out. She was too occupied with her thoughts to notice a pair of arms slowly wrapping around her.

    Kevin tightened his hold and Annie unwittingly molded her body against his. It felt so perfect to have her next to him. For the longest time, he had dreamt of enclosing her in his arms. Even better was the fact that she was concerned for his safety. When she had said how glad she was to see him, it felt like his heart had made a 360-degree cartwheel. He knew it was a spur of the moment statement, but he was content to hear it. Oftentimes, he wondered how she managed to get under his skin like this. If only they didn’t have the troubles of her past and his undercover mission interfering.

    His wishful thinking was interrupted when she realized he was fully awake and hugging her. She lifted her tear stained face and relief vibrated in her eyes. “Kevin! Are you all right? How are you feeling?”

    He gingerly cracked opened his eyes and groaned. “I think I’m okay. I just have a huge headache, that’s all.”

    “Can you stand up? I’ll take you to a hospital. You need to have a doctor examine that bump.”

    “I’m okay. I just need to rest here for a bit.” He placed his hand on her head and tried to draw her back down again. With her head resting over his chest, he once again tucked her tightly next to him.

    “Hey! Wait just a minute.” It finally dawned on her that he probably faked being hurt to get close to her. She hastily disentangled herself away from him and stood up in an extremely disconcerted manner. She couldn’t believe she had almost revealed her feelings out loud and he had the nerve to pretend he was knocked out all this time.

    “Kevin Cheng, how long have you been awake? You better not lie.”

    “As I remember correctly, I tried to rescue you from your fall, but you landed on my back instead. After that, I blacked out. I think that branch slammed into my head or something. I just woke up a split second ago. Owwww, my head still hurts like hell.” He started rubbing his head in mock pain. He had actually been awake the entire time. He just wanted to see her reactions to his injury. The result was more than he had expected. However, he was not foolish enough to admit the truth. His mother didn’t raise a dummy.

    “Really? You’re not saying that so I won’t get mad, are you?”

    He plastered on what he hoped was a particular wounded look. “Now, how can you possibly say that, Annie? After I risked my life and possibly incurred brain damage to save you, the thanks I get is the suspicion that I pretended to be injured and lied about it. Rather a bit out of line, don’t you think? I assume friends should have more trust in each other.”

    She was instantly remorseful for doubting him. She knelt down next to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be distrustful of your good intents. You’re right. I was out of line and I should have more faith in your words. I really am grateful for your help and thank you for breaking my fall. You were a great cushion.”

    She sounded so contrite and sincere. It made him feel small and ashamed for deceiving her. Yet he didn’t regret his actions. That short span of time had allowed him a glimpse of her affection for him. A troubled conscience was a small price to pay. Besides, what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

    “Apology accepted. I still have a light headache, but nothing I can’t handle.”

    “Are you sure you don’t need to have it examined?”

    He saw her biting her bottom lip with her teeth. It was a habit he noticed she did when she was fretting over something. “If it will make you feel better, I promise to have my head examined just to be on the safe side.”

    She quickly brightened up. Her smile was so contagious that his mouth started to curve up too. “By the way, you haven’t told me how you ended up in the tree.”

    “It really is quite silly of me. A baby sparrow had fallen from its nest and I wanted to put it back in its nest. So I climbed up the tree.” Thinking that he would most likely laugh at her, she averted her eyes while talking to him. It was embarrassing for her to admit her weakness. “Unfortunately for me, my fear of heights chose to rear its ugly head. I was frozen on the spot and couldn’t get down. I hanged around, literally, until you showed up.”

    He failed to find anything laughable about Annie. Her compassion truly touched a chord in him. It must have been terrifying for her to confront her fear, but she had cast everything aside to save a defenseless animal. Instead of boasting about her good deed, she was being humble about it. She was constantly full of surprises.

    He was being too quiet which caused her to glance up to check on him. The intent gaze in his eyes was enough to send her heart racing. He never ceased to have such a strong impact on her. He started to lean in, his eyes locked on hers. She knew she should move, but couldn’t. Her palms were getting sweaty and she was taking deeper breaths. His face kept moving closer until his lips were mere inches away from her lips. She could feel his soft breath on her cheek.

    From the corner of her eyes, she noticed his hand lifting near her ear and removing an object. His next words broke her trance. “There is a leaf in your hair.” He pulled back and showed her the dried up brown leaf.

    She blushed crimson red and looked everywhere except directly at him. “Thank you,” she whispered softly. She was relieved he didn’t take advantage of the situation and further complicate their relationship. However, deep down, part of her had wanted him to kiss her.

    “What are you doing tomorrow?” he raised the unexpected question.

    “Oh, I have a lot of things planned.” Glad at the change of subject, she got up and went to find her purse and shoes. She dug into her purse and found a slip of paper. “Let’s see, I have a yoga exercise at 6 am, light healthy breakfast at 7, call my contacts to plan the wedding from 8 to 10, take a small break, and continue till noon. After lunch, I’m going online to search for popular Shanghai dishes, arrange to meet with some of the most reputable florists in the city, take another small break –”

    She was unable to finish reading the list because he had yanked the slip of paper from her fingers. “You actually wrote down a schedule?” he asked incredulously.

    “Whatever gets things done. Now give it back to me.”

    He didn’t listen to her and held it out of her reach. “You are way too uptight. You need to stop and take some time to enjoy life. Haven’t you heard of carpe diem?”

    “First of all, I am not uptight. I just have a very punctual agenda that I follow in order to help me get things done. If along the way I decide to write certain stuffs down, it is only to serve as a reminder –”

    “Still sounds uptight to me,” he interrupted her.

    “Secondly, I have a job to do and it’s going to take up a large chunk of my time. I can’t afford to enjoy life yet. I’ll consider living life to the fullest after I open my restaurant.” She succeeded in snatching her list back and folded it neatly in half.

    “Do you think you’ll have some spare time to squeeze me into your busy schedule? Say dinner with an old acquaintance?”

    It was such a tempting offer. She really should decline, but lately, she had been ignoring the rational side of her brain too much for her comfort. “I’ll think about it.”

    He watched her scurrying away. He knew she was trying her best to escape her growing attraction to him. Alas, she was fighting a losing battle. When would she realize that all her defenses were futile against him? He was going to pursue her no matter the cost. She was becoming too important to him. Of course, he would be patient, but also advance when necessary.

  4. #24
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 23 – Worst Pickup Ever

    “Excuse me! Could you people please take a couple steps back?! You’re practically breathing down my neck.” Ruby turned around and snapped at the young couple. She and Ada were currently waiting to be seated at the busiest restaurant in town, The Red Mirage. It had been half an hour and their number was still not called. Ada had made reservation for a table four days in advance, but when they arrived, they were told the place was so crowded everyone had to wait an extra forty-five minutes. Ruby was already ticked off and it didn’t help matter to have two people trying to glue themselves to her. They kept inching forward like they could magically make the line move faster. After her outburst, they grudgingly gave her more space.

    “Oh, I think our number is next. They just called out 67,” Ada said excitedly.

    “It’s about time. If today isn’t Annie’s birthday, I wouldn’t bother wasting my time going here. Who would have thought the service would be this lousy.”

    “Shhhhhhhhhh.” Ada motioned for Ruby to lower her voice. “Are you trying to lose our table? Not to mention anger the staff? You never know what they will do to our food. I prefer not to taste someone’s spit, okay.”

    Ruby wasn’t done venting her annoyance. Nevertheless, kept her mouth closed. Eventually, a tall skinny waiter showed up in the lounge and announced, “Number 68, table for 3 is now ready.”

    “That’s us!” Ada exclaimed.

    “Finally! It’s been forever!”

    They were taken to a secluded area on the second floor with a good view of the activities on the ground level. The waiter handed them each a menu. “My name is Peng and I’ll be your server for today. Would you like something to drink before ordering?”

    “Two strawberry lemonades please,” Ada ordered for herself and Ruby. “Our friend is on her way, so could you give us a couple minutes to decide?”

    “Certainly. I’ll be back with your drinks.”

    Several minutes later, they spotted Annie wandering in. Ruby stood up and waved. “Annie! Over here!” She smiled and waved back. She rushed over to greet them. “Sorry I’m late. There was a traffic jam.”

    “It’s all right. You’re the birthday girl. Tardiness is forgivable, but only for today,” Ada indicated jokingly.

    “You didn’t miss anything except a long wait in the lounge. I can’t believe we have a reservation and they still made us stand in line,” Ruby whined.

    “Hey, no pouting on my birthday.” Annie used her index finger to push Ruby’s lower lip back in. “I’m turning twenty-six, so I only have a couple years left before I go ‘over the hill’.”

    “What are you complaining about? I’m the oldest here. If anyone deserves pity, it should be me.”

    “Ada, you don’t look a day over eighteen,” Ruby pointed out. “Most women would die for your flawless appearance.”

    “True, but it still doesn’t make me feel any better when I see the number of candles on the birthday cake.”

    “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot.” Ruby pulled out the large, yellow gift bag she had been carrying from under the table. “Here’s your present. A little gift from Ada and me. Happy twenty-sixth birthday, Annie.”

    “You guys didn’t have to do this. Ruby, you already gave me a party dress to attend Sarah’s wedding reception. Why are you spending more money?”

    “It was so pretty I couldn’t help myself,” she smiled.

    “May I open it?”

    They nodded. Annie ripped apart the pretty packaging in her enthusiasm. Inside was a pair of brown leather boots she had been searching for the longest time. She squealed with joy before giving Ruby and Ada a tight hug. “They’re gorgeous! Thank you so much!” The leather was extremely soft and supple to the touch. Annie was beaming as she admired her gift.

    Ada glanced at her watch and frowned. “What is taking them so long with our drinks? I’m getting hungry.”

    “Hmph! If they don’t show up soon, they can kiss their tips goodbye,” Ruby remarked in a very displeased tone. “I’m not spending one penny of my hard earned money for this kind of crappy service.”

    “Do you guys notice something weird going on?” Annie asked. Ruby and Ada surveyed around them. Several waiters and waitresses were going to many of the tables on the second floor and after a few spoken words, the customers would gather their belongings and leave. Some went quietly while others made quite a fuss. Nonetheless, they all eventually filed out of the restaurant. Their table was the last one the staff approached

    “Excuse me, ladies,” Peng politely addressed them. “I’m terribly sorry, but due to some unexpected events, we have to clear out the second floor. Currently, there isn’t any table available on the first floor, but if you could remain a little longer in the lounge, we’ll call you when we have one ready.”

    “What?! But we already waited so long for a table. We even ordered our drinks too. Which, by the way, is taking a very long time,” Ada reminded him. Ruby, on the other hand, was darkly frowning at Peng.”

    “Is there a reason why you are only clearing out this specific area?” Annie questioned curiously. She was annoyed at the situation, but not quite as upset as the other two.

    “I apologize for the inconvenience, but a VIP guest has suddenly shown up. He wants to reserve these tables as well as the dining room in the corner,” Peng explained.

    “Too bad,” Ruby stated unsympathetically. “We were here first and we’re not budging until we finish our lunch. There is no way I’m going to be carted off to that lounge again. Your VIP guest can wait just like everyone else.”

    “Red Mirage is more than willing to compensate you for the trouble. You can come back any time and your next meal is totally complimentary.”

    Ruby was bristling with indignation. “He’s not the only paying customer around here. We have money too,” she fired at Peng as she waved her wallet around. “How big of an entourage is this VIP guest bringing that you have to set aside so many tables? That room alone could hold at least thirty people.”

    “I’m not certain. All I know is that he wishes to secure this entire floor for several hours. We would be deeply grateful for your---”

    “I am highly offended at being so callously treated by such an acclaimed restaurant,” Ada cut him off. She was usually a very easy-going person; however, this was too much to endure, even for her. “Today is my good friend’s birthday and so far, it hasn’t been a very happy one. We will leave after we finish lunch,” she firmly stated in a non-negotiable tone. “And where is my strawberry lemonade?”

    Annie felt bad for Peng. Pleasing all guests wasn’t always easy to do. Years of serving people had given her a first hand experience at how stressful it can be. She didn’t want to cause a commotion over a small meal. “Ada, how about you and Ruby take your drinks to go? We can eat somewhere else.”

    “Are you sure, Annie?” Ruby asked.

    “Yeah, let’s go. There’s no point in sitting here and arguing for the rest of the day.”

    “Thank you so much for your understanding. I’ll have your drinks ready right away.” Peng happily took off toward the kitchen.

    Ada needed to pay a visit to the restroom. Ruby and Annie went along to freshen up as well. By the time they came out, the whole second floor had been emptied. They were too busy gossiping about the latest entertainment news and failed to notice the group of men turning the corner. Ada bumped into a muscular chest and staggered several steps back. Annie quickly supported Ada to prevent her from falling.

    “Watch where you’re going!” one of the men yelled out. There were a total of four men. Three were dressed in black suits standing behind the young man Ada had collided into. They were of medium height with a bulky physique and appeared to be bodyguards.

    The attractive young man in front was wearing an expensive dark blue trouser and crisp white cashmere dress shirt. He seemed to be in his early twenties and had the youthful good looks of a wealthy playboy. There was a hint of a smile upon his wide narrow mouth and those speculative eyes immediately held a keen interest in the three women before him. His dark brown wavy hair was meticulously brushed back from his forehead in a stylish fashion. He was slightly taller than his companions, but his flush attire alone made him stand out.

    “Hey, don’t raise your voice at her!” Ruby snapped back. “Tell your buddy to watch where he’s going.” She turned to check on Ada. “You all right?”

    Ada nodded. Ruby scowled at the men before attempting to walk away. The young man stepped out and blocked the girls from leaving. “Please accept my apology, ladies. These are my bodyguards and they were worried about my wellbeing. Sometimes, they can be rather harsh with their words. You’ll have to excuse them for being so obtuse.”

    “I should have paid more attention to where I was going as well,” Ada responded. “There is no need to apologize.” They once again tried to walk pass the men, but were stopped.

    “Let me introduce myself. My name is Jake. Allow me to make up for bumping into you. I would be most honored to have three gorgeous women accompany me for lunch.” His passionate gaze never left the women. Lately, he had been feeling rather bored with the dull women in Shanghai. It must be his lucky day to find so many engaging women in one place. He was drawn to their beauty, but the fiery tempered one was the most appealing. He liked them feisty. It was more fun in bed that way. Actually, it would be extremely pleasurable to have all three. Unfortunately for him, his plan quickly met with some hindrance.

    “That isn’t necessary,” Annie coldly declined. “No one was at fault. Besides, this entire floor has been reserved. You can’t get a table.”

    A smile graced his lips. “I was the one who reserved this place. I would love for you all to join me.”

    Surprise flared in Ruby’s eyes at the revelation. “So you’re the jerk hoarding all theses tables! Unbelievable! You took out half a restaurant for only four people?!” She started to roll up her shirtsleeve and was about to give him a piece of her mind. She hated it when people took advantage of their money and presumed they can step on everyone else.

    Jake spoke in a regretful tone, “If I had known such lovely ladies were going to eat here, I would have told the manager to allow you to stay.”

    “Allow?! You’re acting like you own this place. Why I ought to–”

    Annie disrupted Ruby’s outburst. “Thank you for your benevolent thought, but we really must be going.”

    The three bodyguards instantly moved forward and barred their passage to the stairs. With feet apart and arms crossed at the chest, they stood resembling a brick wall. The guy in the middle spoke up. “Our boss has bestowed a great compliment by gracing you with his presence. It would be wise to accept his invitation for lunch.”

    “And if we don’t?” Annie narrowed her eyes. She was not one to take kindly to threats, especially from a couple of thugs and an overindulged rich kid.

    “I’m afraid you can’t leave then,” the one on the left informed.

    “I’d like to see you try and stop us,” Ruby said defiantly. If a fistfight was what they were after, then she was more than willing to oblige them. Either way, they were grating on her last nerve.

    Ada was not thrilled at the turn of events. The last thing she wanted was an altercation with a group of dangerous looking men. It would be infinitely safer not to provoke them. She inwardly sighed. Why couldn’t she spend lunchtime in peace? Is it too much to ask? She mentally prepared herself for the worst. Once Ruby busted out her karate chop, it won’t be a pretty scene.

    “Now, ladies, we really don’t have to resort to violence. I would hate to see such beautiful faces get battered up,” Jake pronounced the words in a mild manner. However, the undertone was expressing a warning to them. “We can all have a fun time together. What do you say?”

    Ruby glowered at him. “Let me say this in a way you will understand. No, no, and… ummmm… no. Unless you have a perverse desire for a broken nose, move out of our way.”

    He grinned at her menacing demeanor. “You have such spirit. I like it.” He reached out a hand to suggestively graze her cheek. Bad move. Before he knew it, she sent her fist flying against his face. He reeled back grabbing his nose and crashed into several chairs. His lackeys promptly rushed over to help him up. He howled in outrage when he saw the crimson stain on his hand.

    “Don’t just stand there! Get them!”

    At the sign of a brawl breaking out, the dining customers on the first floor all screamed and ran out of the restaurant. The three bodyguards charged toward the girls while Jake rested on a chair, still cradling his bloody nose. He was dreadfully afraid his injury would leave a permanent mark on his face.

    It was Annie, Ada, and Ruby versus three blocks of moving muscles. Believing that they could easily beat a couple weak females, the men were shocked to find that they had clearly underestimated their opponents. Ruby made good use of her black belt in karate as she kept on the offensive. The poor fellow didn’t know what hit him as she kicked and punched at lightening speed. He barely had enough time to react to her attacks.

    Annie wasn’t doing too badly either. She had seized her adversary by the arm and using her body as leverage, she managed to flip him on his back. The man was in a dazed, but recovered in time to avoid a direct kick to his head. Alas, he didn’t see the fist aiming for his jaw. He learned too late that her right hook was pretty powerful.

    During this time, Ada was being chased around by the third bodyguard. She was leaping over chairs and scurrying under tables at a pace she never knew she was capable of. Every so often, she would release a scream for help. Her opponent was hot on her heels in the pursuit. She hurled every object she could get her hands on and prayed one of them would make contact. As she was stumbling around the furniture, she banged her knees against a chair. While yelping in pain, she continued darting back and forth across the room.

    “Help! You stay away from me!” Without even looking, she threw a handful of chopsticks over her shoulder. “Find someone your own size to bully!” Two forks were haphazardly tossed across the room. “Someone save me!”

    A napkin holder finally smashed against the man’s shoulder and slowed him down. She had little time to rejoice. Much to her dismay, she was backed into a corner without any weapon within reach. She swallowed the lump of fear in her throat and started to panic. The man advanced toward her with triumph gleaming in his eyes. “So, got nothing left, huh?”

    A couple feet away, Annie finished off her attacker with a kick to the face. He fell groaning to the ground in a semi-conscious state. She glanced to the side and noted Ada was in trouble. She came up behind the man and gave a light tap on his shoulder. His eyes widened in surprise at the sight of a large glass vase in Annie’s hands. Without a second thought, she swung the vase across the side of his head and knocked him out cold.

    “Get up, you imbeciles!” Jake screamed at his men. “I didn’t pay you to get beaten up by a couple of puny women!”

    “Oh, shut up!” Ruby said in disgust as she twisted his arm around to his back. She proceeded to slam him down against the table in a not-so-gentle fashion.

    “Oww… owww! Watch it! Easy on the arm,” he complained while trying to escape her iron grip. “What are you trying to do? Break it?”

    “Listen up, you snot-nosed punk! The next time you decide to harass women, find out who you’re dealing with first. Don’t think just because you have money to throw around that every woman is willing to sell her soul to you. We’re not for sale.”

    Now that they had the upper hand, Ada ventured out from her hiding space behind Annie. She slapped him on the head. “And what are you doing carousing around town anyway? Shouldn’t you be studying in college?”

    “But I already graduated.”

    “In what? Philandering?” Annie questioned sardonically.

    “No.” He managed to squeak out as he was starting to lose the feel in his arm. “For your information, I happen to have a degree in business management. Now, can you please let me go? You’re killing my arm here.”

    “I don’t know. Maybe I should hang you upside down from the ceiling just to teach you a lesson,” she halfheartedly suggested. She took her time contemplating his release. He should sweat a little before she let him off the hook. She barely had the chance to loosen her grip when a flying object sailed dangerous across the room. Annie gave a startled gasp as she swiftly pulled Ruby aside in time to avoid being its target. The object shot passed them and was deeply embedded into a pillar directly behind them. At a closer look, they found out that it was a pebble the size of a thumb.

    Annie felt the skin on her back prickled as she realized Ruby narrowly escaped being seriously hurt. A force powerful enough to nail a small rock into concrete was not to be lightly overlooked. She assessed the person who threw it must be a very capable martial artist as well as possessing a brutal nature. It was not long before she found out the identity of that person.

    “Three against one. Hardly a fair fight,” a deep, resonant voice pierced the air. Annie followed the sound and a tall, imposing figure met her gaze. He had a straight, broad nose with lips that curved slightly at the corners almost in a mocking manner. His high cheekbones, olive colored skin, and thick, dark brows gave off a feeling of nobility that not many people possessed. She stared into hardened eyes that had seen too much of the world and nearly shivered at its intensity. He moved with the fluid motion of a dangerous tiger on the prowl, but there was such a dignified authority about him that Annie was filled with intrigue at this dark stranger. He slowly headed up the stairs with a row of twelve men, all dressed in black, following him. Here was the presence of a formidable leader. The sensible thing to do was flee the area.

    “Alex! Good thing you’re here!” Jake straightened up and ran over to the group.

    Ruby took this opportunity to inquire in an undaunted tone, “Did you throw that rock?”

    “Yes,” he curtly replied.

    “Well, it was a very underhanded thing to do.”

    “My cousin was outnumbered and you didn’t show any sign of releasing him.”

    Annie chose to speak up in defense. “First off, your cousin had his bodyguards with him. Three women against four men is hardly what I called outnumbering him. Secondly, he was attempting to forcefully retain us.”

    “And I was going to let him go, but you threw that rock at me.”

    “Don’t listen to him, Alex. That girl punched me first.” Jake pointed an index finger accusingly at Ruby. By now, he had found a napkin and was covering his nose with it.

    Alex turned and glared at the younger man, who instantly silenced any further complaints.
    His cousin deserved to be reprimanded, but he didn’t feel the need to humiliate Jake in front of so many people.

    “I’m well aware of my cousin’s faults. However, it was still wrong of you to strike first.” One of his men dusted off a cushioned chair for him. He sat down in a regal manner. “I prefer not to blow this incident out of proportion,” he continued in a lazy drawl. “Since no serious bodily injuries occurred, it would be in our best interests to forget this violent encounter. Wouldn’t you ladies agree?

    All three women nodded their heads. “Excellent. Glad we could reach a satisfying decision. You may leave,” he coolly dismissed them with a simple turn of his hand.

    They quickly gathered their belongings and hesitantly walked past the row of immobile men. Once the girls were gone, Jake nervously stood before Alex. Silence streamed through the air. One of the men brought forth a cup of warm tea and set it down on the table. Alex traced the rim with an index finger. “Don’t you have something to say?”

    Jake found his voice. “Why did you let them go? Didn’t you see they made a fool of me?”

    A fist came crashing down on the table, startling everyone in the room. “Haven’t you caused enough havoc for one day?!” Alex’s booming voice focused on Jake. “This is Shanghai, not Hong Kong. You can do whatever you want at home, but I suggest you better not foul up my plans. Your marriage to Melissa Wong is only a couple months away. Best get your act together, cousin. This is my last warning.”

  5. #25
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 24 – Make A Wish

    “That guy wasn’t so tough. I could have taken him,” Ruby vocally announced once they were far away from The Red Mirage. She had the belief that she possessed the skills to defeat Alex.

    Annie dubiously lifted a brow. “To where? The movies?”

    “I’m being serious here. He just caught me off guard with that little rock, which I still think was a cheap shot. If we were to compete in a fair hand-to-hand combat, there’s a big chance I could win.”

    She saw Annie and Ada casting skeptical glances at each other. She became rather annoyed as she perched her hands on her hips. “Don’t tell me you guys are doubting my abilities.”

    Ada tried to find a tactful way of telling Ruby about her disillusionment. “I mean this in a loving way, but do you have a death wish?”

    “I don’t see what’s the big deal about this Alex guy. If you strip away his daunting stature, muscular frame, intimidating poise, and bodyguards, you’re only left with a typical, average, testosterone-filled man without any backup protection. See, he’s not so scary.”

    “Well… when you put it that way…”

    “Annie! Don’t encourage her,” Ada chided. “Her temperament is already bad enough.”


    “Don’t you hey me. Ruby, I want you to promise not to trigger any more problems for the duration of our stay in Shanghai.”

    “I do not trigger problems!” she wildly denied.

    “I just need some reassurance that if you ever come across a difficult situation, you will not go berserk and challenge people to fistfight. Especially with that dangerous man back at the restaurant.”

    “Yeah, I agree with Ada. It’s best not to be near those types of people. From the looks of his followers and the way they dressed, I think it is very likely they associate with the mob.”

    “Okay, okay, stop ganging up on me. It’s not like I was going to formally challenged Alex to a duel. Now, can we please go find something to eat?”


    Later in the night, Annie sat amid a scattered pile of paperwork and stretched. She was finally done accounting the rough costs of decorations, hiring florists, catering costs, and entertainment. She also had an appointment with an interior designer the next day. There were several decoration themes she wanted to review with the designer to see what would be the best fit for the wedding. She would have to run the information over with Mrs. Wong later tomorrow as well as present Melissa with the newest designs in wedding gowns. It was tiring work, but at least she was on schedule.

    As she stood up to get a glass of water, there was a knock at the door. She opened the door and stared at the deliveryman. “May I help you?”

    “I have a package for Annie Man.”

    “I’m Annie. Who is it from?”

    “I don’t know, ma’am. I just deliver the package.” He handed the large rectangular box to her and took out an invoice. “Please sign here and I can be on my way.”

    After closing the door, she placed the box on the dining table and opened it. She was shocked to see a vanilla colored satin gown, a transparent white shawl, and a pair of matching pumps inside. She released a dismay gasp as she took out the dress. Holding it up by the spaghetti straps, the hem cascaded down to her ankle. Except for a ribbon beneath the bodice, it was devoid of any design, but was one of the most stunning creations she had ever seen. Silky soft to the tough, the gown was feather light in her hands.

    She glanced down and a white card caught her attention. Opening the card, she read the short message written in two neat rows:

    Happy birthday. You didn’t forget about our dinner, did you? Hope you like my gift. Wear it and meet me outside in an hour. I have a surprise for you.

    How did he know it was her birthday? Who gave him that information? An hour?! The clock above the mantel revealed it was close to six o’clock. How was she going to be ready with such short notice? Damn! She hastily ran into the bathroom to take a shower and accidentally banged her knee against the corner of a table. “Aiya! That hurts!” She leaned on the wall for support and hopped on one foot toward the bathtub. In record time, she finished changing, blow-drying her hair, and slapping on some makeup. With one last look at the full-length mirror hanging in the hall, she adjusted the shawl and smoothed her hands down the gown. After taking a deep breath, she opened the door.

    She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous, but the thought of seeing him again made her heart ached with unreasonable joy. She stood on the front porch and scanned the area. It was starting to get dark. She walked around peering from side to side, but there was no one around. Unexpectedly, a velvety voice gave her a startled jump.

    “Did I give you enough time to get ready?”

    Whirling around, she almost melted at the sight of Kevin in a black and white pinstriped business suit. It was just amazing how he could so easily make her blood run wild with just one look. It felt like her breath was trapped in her throat. His hair was slick back and looked impeccable as always. The warm glow in his eyes proved to be intoxicating the longer she gazed into them. The dark suit succeeded in accentuating his features and if possible, made him even more handsome. Was it wrong to be this excited in his presence?

    The mere image of Annie smiling at him could light up a room. The shimmering gown flawlessly molded to her form and curved in just the right places. Instead of choosing something too extravagant, he knew that sometimes less was more. The creamy shade of white had succeeded in bringing out her natural beauty in the most subtle way.

    “How did you know it was my birthday?”

    He replied with a wide grin adorned on his lips, “It’s a secret. Do you like my gift?”

    “That depends.” She did a little spin and curtsy for him. “How do I look in it?” she impishly asked.

    He laughed out loud at her charming display. “Extremely gorgeous,” he truthfully stated.

    She blushed prettily at his compliment. “Thank you. Well, then I love your gift.”

    “Good answer.” He approached her and withdrew a blue blindfold from his shirt pocket. “Put this on.”

    “Why? What are you going to do?” There was a note of uncertainty in her tone. She gingerly examined the piece of cloth.

    He stepped behind her and took the blindfold from her fingers. “Trust me,” he whispered close to her ear as he tied the cloth behind her head. The husky timbre sent shivers of delight down her spine. Darkness abruptly covered her sight as he guided her to the convertible. He slipped a hand around her waist and captured her hand with his other free one. Her lack of vision had made her completely dependent on him. Yet oddly, she had never felt safer in her life. The realization that she placed so much trust in him was more disturbing to her.

    Eventually, the smooth car ride ended and he opened the door for her. He led her up a flight of spiral stairs and after much anticipation, he removed the blindfold. The sight before her caused a radiant smile to flutter across her lips. They were standing in a large, circular room. Pink rose petals were sprinkled across the blue and white marble floor. In the center of the room, a red velvet blanket was spread out with a huge bouquet of white lilies placed on top. Next to the flowers, she saw a large basket filled with food and a bottle of champagne.

    The entire area was dimly lit with the walls made entirely out of glass. The phenomenal thing was that the walls were completely adorned with countless tiny white lights. Kevin took out a small remote control and pressed a button. The roof automatically began to retract, leaving behind a glass cover that allowed an amazing, crystal clear view of the star filled sky. It took a moment for her to absorb the magical scene he had created.

    Her attention gradually alighted on a standing canvas positioned against the wall. A black cloth was draped over it, obstructing any view of the painting underneath. Her legs moved toward the canvas and she hesitantly glanced over at him.

    “Go ahead. Remove the cover.”

    She gasped out in disbelief as the cloth floated to the ground. She could scarcely believe it was real. She reached out to touch the painting to confirm she wasn’t dreaming. Tears started forming in her eyes, but remained unshed as she whispered, “Oh, Kevin… you found it.”

    “Don’t get too attached. It’s only a loan. No matter what I offered the owner, he was unwilling to sell it. The best I could get was to have it shipped here for a couple days.”

    “This is more than enough.” She was overwhelmed with emotion. After all these years, she was finally able to see the authentic version of Ray of Light. The scene of the sun setting over the horizon was so much more compelling than the duplicate copy. “With end of one day, there would be the start of a new one.” She could still hear those words spoken from her mother. The magnificent glory of the artwork managed to bring a sense of closure for her. The loss of her beloved parents was somehow made less painful. And she had Kevin to thank.

    “I thought I would never be able to see it again. I don’t know how to possibly thank you.”

    To see such elation brighten up her face was the payment he had hoped for. She stared up at him with gratitude and something else in those luminous depths. He was suddenly overcome with tenderness for her. “Action speaks louder than words. There is one way for you to show your appreciation for all my hard work.”

    “What is it?”

    He took her by surprise when he stretched his hand out to her. “Dance with me.”

    “But there’s no music.”

    “Leave that problem to me.” He had already taken hold of her hand. She was too absorbed by those riveting eyes to notice his other arm around her waist. He drew her closer and started to guide her into the steps of a slow dance. At first, he detected her reluctance, but her body soon relaxed against him. She shortly realized what a terrific dancer he was, but then, she shouldn’t really be surprised. He seemed to excel in everything he set his mind to and dancing was another area he mastered. His powerful strides and adept movements were on displayed as he waltzed her around the room. It felt like her feet had sprouted wings and she was gliding on air. An exhilarating sensation slowly coursed through her body.

    With his mouth close to her ear, she found that the lack of music was quickly remedied. He was softly singing ‘Looking Through My Eyes,’ by LeAnn Rimes.

    “Look at the sky
    Tell me, what do you see?
    Just close your eyes
    And describe it to me
    The Heavens are sparkling with starlight tonight
    That's what I see through your eyes
    I see the Heavens
    Each time that you smile
    I hear your heartbeat
    Just go on for miles
    And suddenly I know my life is worthwhile
    That's what I see through your eyes
    Here in the night
    I see the sun
    Here in the dark
    Our two hearts are one
    It's out of our halves
    We can't stop what we have begun
    And love just took me by surprise...
    Looking through your eyes
    Look at myself
    Had instead I see us
    Whoever I am
    Now it feels like enough
    And I see it through as learning to trust
    That's who I see through your eyes
    Here in the night
    I see the sun
    Here in the dark
    Our two hearts are one
    It's out of our halves
    We can't stop what we have begun
    And love just took me by surprise
    Looking through your eyes
    And there are some things we don't know
    Sometimes our hearts just needs to call
    And there is so much that I remember
    Underneath the open sky
    With you forever...
    And love just took me by surprise
    Looking through your eyes..........

    How he knew this was her favorite song was a mystery to her. The only important thing at this moment was the poignantly affecting way he serenaded her. It nearly brought her to tears. He truly had a wonderful voice. She was utterly and hopelessly mesmerized. Never had she known this kind of gentleness from a man before. She felt so warm and protected in his arms. It was as if he alone could slay all her demons and shelter her from the dark storm raging for so long within her.

    It led her to envision she was Cinderella and he was Prince Charming. If only the night could go on forever. Yet she was acutely aware that in the fairytale, Cinderella had to leave the ball at the stroke of midnight. Would her night end at midnight as well? It was a silly notion, but she always sensed their time together was limited, and sooner or later, he would slip away from her.

    They had stopped moving and he pulled her tighter within his embrace. The missing part of his soul was ultimately found in a woman with the face and heart of an angel. His eyes fell on her lips as he leaned in to kiss her. She yearned to feel the touch of his lips, but at the last second, she couldn’t do it. She wasn’t ready to let him get so close. It was bad enough he possessed the ability to burn her senses to the point where she couldn’t think straight. Tilting her head slightly to the side, she avoided the kiss. His lips had instead made contact with her cheek. He smiled and lingered there.

    “I’m sorry, Kevin.”

    “Don’t be.” His cheek was now laid against hers. “When you eventually become tired of running away, all you have to do is turn around and I will be there, waiting for you.”

    “You must have gone to great lengths to prepare everything for tonight. Am I really worth all this trouble?”

    “You already know the answer to that, Annie. Do you still have any doubt that I love you?”

    She remained quiet, unsure of how to respond to his declaration. Part of her was thrilled to hear those words, but on the flip side, she was so afraid to acknowledge them. More than anything, she wanted to accept him, but her fear and insecurity kicked in and she held back.

    “It's the truth, you know. Would you rather have me lie to you?”

    Her arms circled around his broad chest and she rested her head on his shoulder. “I don't know if I can return your love,” she whispered with a saddened heart.

    “You can and you will,” he stated confidently in a solemn tone. “You just don't know it yet.” How he longed to ease some of the pain that had created such a burden for her. Couldn’t she see how much it was weighing her down? If only she would trust him enough to reveal her past and share her troubles with him.

    “Until the day I can become the only man in your heart, I will continue to wait. But do keep in mind that I prefer not to wait too long,” he lightly teased her.

    She leaned back and searched for any sign of deceit, any hint he was toying with her, but all she found was sincerity in his countenance. For tonight, she resolved to lay aside her past and just focused on her time with him.

    Suddenly, he pulled her over to the blanket and sat down. Half expecting expensive European cuisines, she was surprised when he took out a plate of chicken wings and one filled with corn muffin. There was even a small vanilla birthday cake. The food was simple and appeared almost out of place in the fancy surrounding, but she liked it that way. Things that appeared ordinary can sometimes feel extraordinary. He had indeed thought of everything.

    “You must be hungry. Would you care to join me?” The boyish grin was very contagious as the corners of her mouth lifted. She kicked off her shoes and sat down next to him.

    A quiet calm settled over them as they sat enjoying the vision of the night. It was almost as if they had suddenly been transported into a different world. She ate while he pointed out the different stars to her. Another new thing she learned about Kevin was his immense knowledge in astronomy. She couldn’t shake the feeling of how nice it was to have him all to herself.

    “Why are you smiling?” he asked before taking a sip of champagne.

    “I was just thinking about what a great dancer you are. You must have a lot of practice.”

    “I’ve had my fair share of cocktail parties.”

    “No doubt, the ladies were surely thrilled to be in your company.”

    “It wasn’t always that way. Quite ironically, I remember my very first crush on a girl ended on the dance floor.”

    “Really?” Her curiosity piqued since she couldn’t imagine any girl turning him down.

    “Yes. I was twelve and she was fourteen. A huge age gap in teenage years, if you know what I mean. She tersely declined my request for a dance and for a while, I was quite devastated.”

    The next words coming from her deeply affected him. “I wouldn’t have turned you down,” she said in a soft voice.

    He beamed at her statement. “Are you sure? I was quite a homely looking adolescent.”

    “I wasn’t exactly a beauty myself. We would have matched well on the dance floor.”

    He wanted to say they matched well now too, but resisted from doing so. Instead, he positioned the candles on the cake and individually lighted them. “Make a wish.”

    She clasped her hands together and closed her eyes. After several minutes, she opened her lids and blew out the candles in one breath.

    “What did you wish for?”

    There was a sheepish grin on her face. “I can’t tell you. It wouldn’t come true if I reveal it now. But I promise to let you know if it ever does come true.”

    “Fair enough.” He reached out to tuck a couple strands of loose hair behind her ear. “Happy birthday, Annie.”

    “Thank you, Kevin. This has truly been an unforgettable birthday.” He pulled her toward him and slipped her head beneath his chin. She was glad to be in his embrace again. They continued to sit there surrounded by the stars and moonlight for the duration of the night.

  6. #26
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 25 – Challenge To A Fight

    “General Zhu, we’re outnumbered ten to one. The Mongolians can wipe out our army in the next battle. What are we supposed to do now?” Sergeant Wai asked.

    The general sat calmly in his chair and addressed his subordinates in a compelling tone. “Lieutenant Chiu, I want you and Sergeant Wai to gather one third of our troops and purposely lose the next battle. The Mongolians are already in high spirits over their previous victories and will give chase as the sense of another winning battle. Lead them to Fire Pit Valley. We’ll set up an ambush there. The timing is finally right for us to strike back.”

    “The position of the valley is very narrow and rocky. Even if they do follow us, it will be difficult for our own troops to do any combat there,” Lieutenant Chiu pointed out.

    “I have inspected the location. As long as we remain on the highest ledge, we can gain the advantage. We attack from the top. I know General Tang. He won’t accept defeat so easily. I’m positive he will send reinforcement. By this time, I want the mouth of the valley to be blocked. We’ll set fire to the entire area. I want to take out half his army.”

    While the filming of The Legend Of A Simple Warrior was taking place, Ruby sat along the sideline, taking special note of Tae’s flawless performance. He really had embodied the role of General Zhu Wen to the minute detail. Gone were all his flashy charms and sunny smiles. Instead, he had transformed into the authoritative and commanding leader of a large army. His every movement displayed the strength and certainty of a skilled warrior. She could barely recognize him in the ancient costume with the bronze helmet, leather boots, and thick metal armor.

    According to history, Zhu Wen became the brilliant general of the Song Dynasty in his early twenties. Even at a young age, he was able to grasp complete control of his followers. His subordinates would follow him to the gates of Hell at his mere request. Every war that he had engaged in always resulted in triumph. The Song soldiers trusted him with their lives. If they should die in battle, it was deemed an honor to serve him. He was most adept in guerilla warfare and could effortlessly outsmart his opponents.

    To portray such a dynamic character, Ruby knew Tae had done his research. He blended so well into the character that he became Zhu Wen not only in appearance. The next scene required him to fend off a group of soldiers while in enemy territory. As the crew finished setting up the location, Tae sat astride his stallion with a forbidding aura surrounding him. He was mentally gearing himself up for the fighting sequence. The image he presented was powerful enough to send the heart of any woman fluttering.

    “Action!” the director yelled out. A swarm of soldiers, both on land and horseback, rushed forward to attack Tae. Ruby released a worried gasp when she saw a spear came dangerously close to his chest. Still on the horse, he bent backward and avoided the blow. Using his sword, he sliced the spear in half and stabbed the other man. His opponent fell off the horse as Tae withdrew the blade. The sword in his right hand continued piercing the armors of countless soldiers at a tireless pace. Shiny weapons from various directions constantly thrust at him and each time he was able to evade the assault with grace.

    The next move was the most dangerous one in the scene. He needed to leap off his stallion to escape an onslaught of shooting arrows. Despite being secured by a sturdy wire, Ruby still held her breath as he soared through the air and landed on his feet. With one kick, he knocked down two men and jumped away from the pointy tips of several swords. At the end of the sequence, he completed a perfect double back flip and a half twist in midair.

    “Cut and print!” The director yelled again from his chair behind the camera. “Tae, that was magnificent! Incredibly done!” Everyone started gathering around him. There were assistants ready to take his sword, wipe his forehead, hand him a water bottle, and massage his biceps. It was a little sickening to watch so many people fawn over him.

    Yet after witnessing his riveting actions, Ruby knew he deserved the avalanche of swooning followers. His sword wielding abilities had grabbed her attention until the very end. She never thought he was capable of such body bending techniques. Although the stances were well choreographed by an expert martial artist, he still deserved credit for executing the moves to the point where they appeared totally natural. She would never own up to it, but the routine was very impressive. She had never watched any of Tae’s movies or listened to his albums, so she wasn’t aware of his talent as an actor and singer. If he could sing as well as he acted, no wonder he had so many adoring fans. It was quite unfair for one person to be blessed with so much in life.

    She collected her notebook and belongings to retire for the day. Ada was still in the recording studio and they had planned to have dinner with Annie. As she was getting ready to leave, she saw Tae strutting over toward her. With his helmet under one arm and a lighted cigarette between his lips, he had converted back to every inch of his former arrogant self. However, she didn’t find his antics all that annoying anymore, which was rather strange.

    “What do you think of the scene? Pretty cool, huh?”

    No way was she going to inflate his already gigantic ego. The man was in much need of some humility and she was just the right person to give it to him. “Eh,” she replied with a shrug. “It was all right. Could use a little more work though.”

    “All right?! More work?!” Clearly, her response was not what he had expected. “Woman, were you asleep the entire time? My dialogue before the fight scene alone was award worthy. And a blind person could tell how awesome I was doing all those martial art stances. I completed everything in one take without even using a stunt double. I did a damn good job, if I have to say so myself,” he announced in a proud tone.

    “You took two steps on that last landing, fidget a couple times while holding your sword, one of the rotations had a slight wobble, and you were a tad rusty guiding the horse around the field. Oh, and you were glaring too often at the enemy. It wouldn’t hurt to be more aloof and give some spice to the character.”

    He stared at her, flabbergasted. “Now hold on for just one freaking minute. Aren’t you being a bit too critical here?”

    “I’m merely telling you the truth. A little constructive criticism goes a long way. You should be grateful I’m pointing out your faults. How else will you know what to improve? Besides, why should it matter what I thought of your performance? The director and everyone else loved it.”

    She was right. It shouldn’t matter, yet it still bothered him. He really ought to ignore her comments and return to his posse of trophy women. At least they would never dare disagree with him. Unfortunately, he was tired of listening to hollow praises and meaningless chatter. Her approval meant a lot more to him than he would like to admit. The weeks of filming had been much more enjoyable with her presence on site. Arguing with her was one of the highlights of his day. Oftentimes, he would figure out something that bugged her and that gave him an excuse to quarrel with her. She was a no nonsense type of gal and definitely not afraid to speak her mind, especially to him. He found that a lesser man engaged in a confrontation with her would be chewed up and spit out before he had a chance to think. It was funny how he never imagined himself to be lured in by such characteristics.

    “Do you mind putting that cigarette out?” She was fanning her face to clear the smoke. “It’s a disgusting habit. Not to mention one that will kill you.”

    As a sign of defiance, he took a big puff and blew more smoke out. “I’m not getting rid of it until I hear a compliment on my work.”

    “That’s a mature statement.” She yanked the cigarette from his lips and snubbed it out with her boot. “You may not care about your health, but I care about mine. Second hand smoke is more deadly for people breathing in the fumes.”

    Undeterred, he whipped out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. However, before he had the chance to light one up, she grabbed the pack from his unsuspecting hand and stamped on it. “Hey! That’s my last pack!” He pushed her aside and crouched down to see if he could salvage anything. Seeing that the entire box was crushed, he straightened up and scowled at her. “You owe me twenty bucks.” As usual, he demand went unheeded. She stuck her tongue out at him before whirling around and sashaying off.

    “Look who’s being immature now,” he grumbled to himself. Why could he never gain the upper hand with her? Try as he might, he couldn’t muster enough energy to be mad at her. She was so adorable in her defiant mood. Particularly when she tossed those long locks over her shoulder. The only woman who could drive him off the wall with her sizzling comebacks and at the same time amazes him with her witty personality. Of course, one of these days he must teach her to show the appropriate respect entitled to a mega movie star.


    Later that night at Pearl’s, an exclusive club for the privileged sector of society, Tae, Kevin, and Stephan were playing poker with two of Stephan’s friends from college. Ron and Howard were business executives for a real estate corporation. They were in Shanghai to close a deal and happened to meet up with Stephan. So far, Kevin had been winning most of the rounds and the rest of the guys were trying to recover some of their losses. It was Tae’s turn to bet and he had raised the stakes up considerably.

    “Too high for my tastes. I fold,” Ron said as he backed out. “Me too.” Stephan followed suit. Howard and Kevin chose to remain in the game. Kevin had on his usual poker face, not letting anyone have a hint of his cards. He piled more chips on the table. “I’ll match your bet and raise you a thousand dollar.”

    “You’re on,” Tae agreed.

    They glanced over at Howard, who was concentrating real hard at his cards. After a while, he placed them back down and grinned. “Guess I’m out now.” Kevin and Tae must have some pretty good cards to bid so high. It was better to play it safe either way.

    Tae was delighted at his change of luck. With four aces, it was the best hand anyone had the entire night. Feeling extremely jubilant, he displayed the cards for all to see. “Read them and weep, Kev.” He made a move to gather up the chips while happily chuckling.

    “Not so fast.” Kevin blocked his hands with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. He showed Tae what he had in hand and shocked his friend. It was a straight flush containing a nine, ten, jack, queen, and king of hearts. “Sorry, buddy. Better luck next time.”

    “What?! That can’t be possible!”

    “Well, evidently, it is possible.”

    “Damn! I’m getting tired of seeing you win, man. I had four aces for goodness sake!” Tae slumped back in his seat and drained his glass of martini. “If I didn’t know better, I would suspect you of cheating.”

    Kevin cheerfully counted his chips. “Don’t be a sore loser.”

    Stephan motioned for the waiter over. “Cheer up, bro. I’ll order another round of drinks for everyone. On me.”


    Meanwhile, on the other side of the club, the person Tae dreaded seeing the most was once again seeking him out. She was dressed in an eye-catching pink evening gown with sparkling diamond necklace, earrings, and matching bracelets with the hope of impressing Tae tonight. Her eyes strained to catch a glimpse of him in the dim area.

    “Mimi, wait for me,” a voice called out to her.

    With an exasperated sigh, she twirled around and nearly collided with the man behind her. “I mean it, Brian. Stop following me. You have a business to run in Hong Kong. Why don’t you go home and take care of it?”

    “My brother can take care of things in my absence.”

    “You are really wearing out my patience. I have something important to do, so quit bothering me.”

    “The only important thing you have planned is finding Tae Leung.” He spoke the name in contempt as he grabbed her shoulders. “I don’t understand why you keep throwing yourself at that blind idiot. He doesn’t even appreciate what you do for him and he sure as hell doesn’t love you. It’s so futile to think you can change him. Stay by my side and I swear I’ll treat you like the gem you are, Mimi.”

    She quickly disentangled herself from his hold. Unmoved by his heated declaration, she coldly stared up at him. “What I do with my time is none of your business. And don’t insult my man. This is my last warning, Brian Keung, stay away from me.”

    She brusquely shoved him aside and stalked off, leaving him there with a heart twisted in pain. Once again, he was being shot down by the woman he loved since high school. For years, she had kept avoiding him, but he never once faltered in his affections for her. He was as persistent in chasing after her as she was chasing after Tae. He should listen to his own advice and put a stop to his foolish behaviors. Alas, no amount of self-discipline could help. Love was a difficult emotion to analyze and especially harder to control. How ironic that he had always prided himself in being an intelligent and practical man, but was helpless when it came to Mimi Lo.

    He owned a flourishing software corporation worth millions, had a near genius level IQ, and came from a family no less prestigious than the Leungs. Yet all those qualities mattered little to her. She only had eyes for a man Brian considered to be a selfish, egotistical, and immoral addition to high society. Although lacking distinguished handsome features, he was far from being homely. He was of medium height, well built with wavy hair neatly trimmed at the nape, and had a sharp pair of eyes behind wire rimmed spectacles. Many people regarded him as the smart, conservative type. In spite of this, Mimi saw him as a dweeb.

    Brian had quietly followed Mimi to the poker room and found a table close enough to observe her without being seen. She finally located the object of her desire and squealed with joy. “Tae!” The only high pitch sound on the face of the earth that could send cold shivers down Tae’s spine. He dropped the glass in his hand and started choking on the martini. It was too late to search for a hiding place. Tonight was definitely not a good one for him.

    Mimi rushed to his side and began pounding on his back. “Are you okay, honey? You should be more careful when drinking such harsh liquids. It’s not good to consume so much alcohol all the time. Once in a while is all right though.” She was beaming from ear to ear. She had attached herself like superglue to his arm and there was no way of shaking her off without causing some bodily injury.

    Tae’s mood instantly turned bleak at the sight of her clingy form. He had an extreme dislike for simpering women and Mimi was one of the worst. His attempt to turn blind eyes on her was not successful. Unable to endure her rubbing against him like a purring cat any longer, he pried her fingers open to retrieve his arm. He blasted her with glowering eyes.

    “What are you doing here, Mimi? Go home.”

    “I came to see you. I’ve been trying to find you all over the place for the past couple of days. Aren’t you happy to see me?”


    The terse reply failed to hamper her jolly expression. “Oh, I know you don’t mean that. You’re such a kidder.” Pulling up a chair between slightly behind Tae, she again looped her arm through his. “I’ll sit here and watch you play. I’ll be as quiet as a mouse so you won’t be bothered.”

    Tae kicked Stephan and Kevin under the table and pleaded with his eyes for assistance. Stephan shrugged and made it clear there was really nothing he could do. Kevin had on a helpless look and managed to show pity for his friend. Tae kicked them again, which earned him dark frowns from the other men. His eyes implored them to do something. They simply shook their heads at him. After the third kick, they scooted away from him and resumed studying their cards. He sure wasn’t getting aid from Howard or Ron. They knew better than to interfere when a woman was involved and refused to acknowledge Tae’s plight.

    He had to fend for himself now. He resorted to be as offhanded and revolting as possible. He purposely knocked over Kevin’s glass of red wine and the liquid spilled all over Mimi’s gown. She screamed and tried to brush away the stain that was already starting to set in. She grabbed a bunch of napkins on the table and dabbed at the wine while he acted like nothing happened.

    Not one to be easily rebuked, she gave him a pleasant smile and resumed sitting there. He was gnashing his teeth at her stubbornness. “Shouldn’t you change out of your dress? It’s soaked.”

    Not wanting to leave and give him the opportunity to ditch her again, she replied in a sweet voice, “No, I’m fine.”

    For the sake of his sanity, he knew he had to get rid of her soon. It was so tiring to be in constant agitation all the time. He pushed her hands away and exclaimed, “Mimi, go home! Don’t you know how annoying you are?! Why do you always have to show up and ruin my good time? You’re gullible, slow, dimwitted, and talkative. I don’t love you and I will never love you. Get it through your thick skull!”

    His cruel words were too much for her to handle and she promptly burst into tears. Howling at the top of her lungs, she had trails of tears and mascara slipping down her cheeks. At the sign of a confrontation, he made an effort to run away, only to have her launch both arms tightly around his waist. She was half kneeling, half squatting on the floor and making a huge scene.

    “I’m… soooooo… sorry… Tae! Please… don’t… make… me… leave!” she squeaked out between hiccups. Her lips were quivering uncontrollably. “I know I’m not too bright and I can be a big nuisance sometimes. You don’t have to love me or even like me. Just let me stay by your side. Pleassssssssse!!!”

    He had to walk and drag her along with him since she wouldn’t release her iron grip. He was having difficulty pulling her fingers loose. “For the love of God, Mimi, stop crying and let go of me! You’re wrinkling my shirt!”

    Kevin grimaced at the disturbing image in front of him. The loud wailings from Mimi were enough to make him cringe. Stephan covered his eyes and ducked his head in shame. His brother’s method of dealing with the situation was completely tactless and embarrassing to witness. On the other hand, Ron and Howard were greatly entertained by the turn of events. It was more interesting than watching a movie. If only they had popcorn.

    It was at this moment that Annie walked into the club. Kevin had invited her, Ruby, and Ada to dinner. Arriving earlier than scheduled, her jaw dropped in shock after one sweeping glance of the crowd in the center of the room. Mimi was weeping bitterly while still hanging to a very frustrated Tae. Hurrying over to the table, she questioned, “Kevin, what’s going on?”

    After he filled her in on the details, she worriedly asked him, “Shouldn’t you put a stop to this?”

    “That’s not a very good idea. This is a matter between the two of them and we shouldn’t interfere. Under the circumstances, I think Tae is doing quite well by himself.” She disagreed, but decided to see how things progressed before doing anything.

    Sitting not too far away, Brian could no longer watch the callous treatment Mimi was receiving. It was killing him to hear her anguished cries. He got up and tightened his fists in boiling anger. He strode over to them with one purpose in his mind and that was to beat the living daylights out of his archrival. He tapped Tae’s shoulder as he approached from behind. Occupied with trying to pull free of Mimi, Tae couldn’t react in time to dodge the fist aimed straight at him. Brian cuffed his left cheek and caused him to fall down.

    Mimi finally stopped her sobbing. “Brian! Have you gone mad?!” She scrambled over to check on Tae. “Sweetheart, are you hurt?!”

    He ignored her and stood up. It took him awhile to recognize the president of Microtelle Enterprise. He had met Brian twice before. One time was at a party Mimi’s parents hosted and another time was at a charity auction. He lightly rubbed his cheek and straightened his shirt. He narrowed his eyes and said, “You have exactly ten seconds to give me a good reason for that punch before I slowly take you apart.” Although rarely one to instigate a fight, when prompted, he would never back out of it. After all, he had a reputation to uphold and he was damn well not taking any personal attack lying down. Besides, he was in a pissed off mood and needed a punching bag at the moment.

    “That was for Mimi. I’ve had enough of the horrific way you have been treating her. She’s a good woman and doesn’t deserve an insensitive jerk like you. Why she wants to be near you is beyond my comprehension. However, I will not stand around and let her be abused.”

    He had no idea someone was interested in Mimi. His eyes lit up with excitement. At last, he was able to get her off his hands. Praise the Lord! Too bad he didn’t have a chance to pay back that punch. Still, it was a small price to be free of the thorn by his side. He pushed her toward the other man. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Hey, if you want her, take her. She’s all yours.”

    She dug her feet into the carpet and again wrapped her arms around him. “Don’t listen to him, Tae. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Brian, get out of here and stop stirring up trouble. You’re just going to get hurt. You can’t possibly think of beating Tae. He’s ten times better than you.”

    A jealous rage coursed through Brian’s blood at her statement. He would prove to her once and for all that she was clinging onto the wrong man. He took off his spectacles and neatly rolled up his shirtsleeves.

    “What are you doing?” she curiously inquired.

    “I have never been one to give up without a fight. Not when it comes to business and especially not when it comes to matters of the heart. I cannot allow you to keep making irrational mistakes without doing anything.” He now shifted his attention to the man next to her. “Tae Leung, I am officially challenging you to a fight for Mimi. The loser must back out from her life for good.

    “Look, any type of bloodshed is not necessary. I’m not going to fight you. How about I forfeit? You win, I lose, and she’s up for grabs. I swear on my life that I will not go within one hundred feet of her. As far as I’m concerned, you two deserve each other. A match made in heaven.”

    “That is unacceptable.”

    “Say what?!” Tae concluded that Brian was the most stubborn and thickheaded man he’d ever met. “I don’t think you understand the situation. I don’t even like her. So you have my blessing to pursue her all you want.”

    “I must prove that I am the better man.”

    “I see. And you consider battling it out with our fists to be the best solution?”

    “Yes. Unless, of course, you are too afraid to engage in fair combat and damage your delicate pretty-boy looks. I’ll allow you to hide behind your celebrity image. All you have to do is publicly acknowledge in the news that you are too much of a wimp to duke it out with me.”

    He knew Brian was purposely baiting him. In spite of being outraged at the taunting, he was willing to forgo the snide remarks. They stood scant inches from each other. A clear warning blazed in Tae’s eyes. “Listen up, you oversized bookworm, I prefer not to ruin my clothes by getting your blood on it. I suggest you don’t push your luck.”

    “A real man would face the challenge, but clearly you’re not one. I wasn’t aware your mother raised a coward. What else could I expect from a woman ---”

    Brian wasn’t allowed to finish his sentence. Tae threw a fist out and sent Brian sprawling on the ground with blood trickling down from a cut lip. Standing over him, Tae growled in a livid voice, “Don’t talk about my mother. If you have a death wish, then so be it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

    Brian knew insulting his mother was a low thing to do, but the tactic had worked. He pulled himself up and stood facing Tae. He had waited a long time for this opportunity and he was going to relish every minute of it.

    “Kevin, Stephan! Do something quick,” Annie said in a panicked voice. “I think this is serious.” Much to her surprise, neither man made a move and continued to lounge in their chairs.

    “Relax, Annie. My brother is fully capable of handling himself. He has been taught by some of the top martial art masters in the nation. Not many people can best him in hand to hand combat.”

    Kevin nodded. “Yes, they have to settle this issue by themselves. If we intervene now, it will be a cold slap in the face for Tae.”

    “But what if they get hurt?”

    “Don’t worry,” Kevin reassured her with a wave of his hand. “At the worst, they’ll only suffer a couple bruises and some minor cuts.”

    “Are you guys sure?”

    “One hundred percent,” they answered in unison.

    Kevin pulled a chair for her. “Here, sit down and enjoy the show. I’ll order something for you to drink.”

    Annie was baffled by their reactions to the upcoming brawl. They were showing a phenomenal amount of confidence in Tae’s ability. Their extreme faith in each other was truly admirable. They respected Tae enough to give him the space to resolve his own problems. Sitting on the sideline and watching your friend exchange blows with another man without lifting a finger to help was certainly not easy. Not many people could do that. She was observing trust at its highest form.

    Stephan leaned over to Kevin and asked, “So, you think Tae can defeat Brian?”

    “Not a chance.”

  7. #27
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 26 – Friendly Little Wager

    The tension in the air was thick enough to cut with a knife. Annie nervously sat watching the event unfold before her. Tae and Brian stood in a motionless stance. Each was waiting for the other person to make the first move and assess his skill. At this moment, neither was willing to back down. It was an all or nothing duel that had created a lively buzz in the club. All the men had gathered into several large groups and were bidding on the outcome. With the odds on Tae’s side, he was undoubtedly the favorite to win.

    A business man to core, Kevin felt the need to join the betting frenzy. “Hey, Stephan, you game for a friendly little wager?”

    Stephan considered the proposal before shrugging and said, “Sure, why not. What do you have in mind?”

    “Ten grand on Brian that he’ll come out the victor.”

    Momentarily startled by the bold claim, he lifted an eyebrow and asked, “You’re betting against my brother… your best friend?”

    “Personal feelings and gambling should never mix. Whether Tae is my best friend or not is quite irrelevant.”

    Stephan pensively rubbed his chin. “Care to give your reasoning on why you prefer to side with Brian Keung?”

    “We both know that Brian is a judo specialist and has engaged in many matches in his spare time. I’ve seen both of them in action and under normal circumstances, Tae would most likely take the lead. He has better agility and faster reflexes. However, right now, Brian holds a slight advantage because he’s fueled by the power of love. Hence, he will fight with all his heart. It may take an indefinite amount of time for them to end this, but I have a feeling Brian will eventually prevail.”

    “Well, I disagree. Tae never takes any kind of competition lightly. If he engages in a match, he aims to win. His pride is at stake. And what kind of man would I be if I don’t back up my own brother? You willing to double the amount?”

    “That confidant, huh? How about making it more interesting. Twenty thousand for the winner, plus for every punch or hit Tae receives, you owe an additional grand. Same condition for Brian.”

    The added stipulation definitely made things a lot more appealing. “You’re on.”

    While they shook on the agreement, Brian and Tae were starting to battle it out. An eager smile graced Brian’s lips as his eyes revealed his fierce joy. His muscle flexed against his shirt, displaying a combustible energy that was often hidden behind his mild mannerism. Since he was an inch taller than Tae, he possessed a slight height advantage. However, Tae was far from being the easy target. His entire body resonated a daunting vitality, serving as proof the folly of underestimating him.

    “You’re starting to bore me, Keung. So, are you going to be a sissy and stand there all night?”

    At the derisive words, Brian made a lunge at Tae, who arched his torso in a catlike motion. He brought his knee up and slammed it into Brian’s abs. Although a painful blow, it didn’t hamper him too much. He twisted around and flung his fist at Tae’s chest. Both men took several steps back. They glowered at one another before springing forward again.

    Ruby and Ada chose this time to show up at the club and quickly took note of the precarious condition. After locating Annie, they sprinted over to her side.

    “What’s happening?” Ada uneasily questioned.

    “Yeah. Why are they pulverizing each other like a couple of maniacs?” Ruby inquired curiously.

    It took several minutes for Annie to relate all the details while trying not to take her attention off the clashing figures. She was getting pretty hyped up over the duel. It wasn’t any day one had the chance to observe something so exciting.

    Ruby’s face reflected her astonishment. “That’s what this is all about?! They’re willing to get beat up over a woman?”

    “Correction,” Stephan piped in. “Brian is willing to get beat up over a woman. In trying to get my brother to fight him, he didn’t think twice about making a slight toward our mother. Far as I’m concern, my brother had no choice except rise to the challenge.”

    Ada was suddenly alarmed. “What a minute, he’s the star of the movie. If he incurs serious injuries, the filming schedule will have to be pushed back.”

    Ruby shared her sentiment. “That’s not the worst part. Everyone’s jobs will be affected, including ours. We might have to remain in Shanghai for God knows how long. Arghhhhh! It’s just typical of that carrot-brain to be so selfish. I mean, is it unreasonable for him to have a little compassion for other people’s wellbeing?” The longer she thought about it, the more fretful she became. No way was she going to allow him to get pounded on her watch. She scarcely took two steps before she was yanked back.

    “Don’t go near them, Ruby,” Annie warned.

    “Yeah, it looks dangerous,” Ada seconded the advice.

    “For the sake of our jobs, I have to risk it.” She rushed forward to put some sense into those two dumbbells. By now, they had made their way to the bar table. Tae just finished elbowing Brian in the ribs. “Tae Leung, you stop this right now! Violence is not going to resolve anything!”

    “Step away, woman,” he uttered between gasps of breath. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

    Brian barely managed to reverse the hold on him and locked an arm around his opponent’s neck. “Yes. Please stand back, ma’am. We have to settle this our way, once and for all.”

    Ruby perched her hands on hips and mulishly refused their requests. “I will not leave until you two come to your senses. You should be ashamed of yourselves for acting like some uncouth thugs in a filthy alley. Now, are you going to be mature adults and end this silly scuffle?”

    “No!” At least they agreed on something.

    Manger Li, the person in charge of Pearl’s, had just been notified of the less than appealing situation. He anxiously scuttled over to the scene. Being a man of small stature, he only reached Tae’s shoulder. He stood contemplating on how to avoid impending calamity. Each man was extremely influential in his own right. They were members of the elite families in society and to interfere with their activities was not a very smart idea. He would prefer not to face the consequences of their wrath.

    “Gentlemen, gentlemen, please think of your safety! Think of the furniture! We recently redecorated. I’m sure everything can be settled peacefully over a cup of tea and some muffins. All meals will be on the house. How about we all sit down and talk this out?”

    They ignored the manager and focused back on their tackling techniques. Brian grabbed Tae by the front of his shirt and slammed him against a wall. A crystal clock and several paintings came crashing to the ground. Manager Li flinched at the destruction of all the precious furnishings. Tae evened the score by kicking Brian in the abdomen and propelling him to a set of chairs. The legs on the chairs splintered apart under the crushing weight.

    Manager Li moaned as he stooped down to pick up a broken piece of wood. “Oh! These were just shipped in yesterday.”

    Brian quickly got up and hurled himself at the moving body in front of him. They slid across the ground with limbs flying in every direction. It was Tae’s turn to seize his adversary in a headlock and slowly squeeze the air out him. Brian retaliated by jabbing him in the eye with an index finger. The assault caught Tae by surprise and he immediately unleashed his hold.

    “Son of a *****!” he cried out with a hand covering his eye. “That was an underhanded move!”

    Brian’s complexion was turning a ruddy shade as he stood gasping heavily. “You never said no eye gouging.”

    “Fine, then I guess this is fair too.” With Brian hovering above him, Tae took advantage of the position and kicked his challenger between the legs. Brian released a small whimper as he covered his private part and fell to the side. All the male bystanders groaned aloud, obviously sharing Brian’s painful predicament.

    Kevin winced at the horrible deed. “Shit! That has got to hurt.”

    “Ha ha! That’s another thousand,” Stephan gloated cheerfully.

    Annie, Ada, and Ruby were casting sickened looks at them. It was one thing not to lend a helping hand, but to team up and try to profit from the event was rather degrading to watch. They shook their heads at the men.

    Meanwhile, Brian had recovered from the unexpected kick and charged toward his nemesis in a flurry of punches. With renewed aggression in the strength of his attacks, Tae was having difficulty blocking all the moves. Every hit sent stinging vibrations through his nerves. In a moment of unguarded defense, he was knocked in the cheek with bruising force. He collided with a table and broke off a corner of the surface.

    Ruby blanched and hollered out, “Oh, good Lord! Not the face! Not the face! He has a monologue to do tomorrow!”

    “Come on, bro! You can do it!” Stephan shouted his support. “I have fifty large ones riding on you! Put more effort into it, man!” He started making punching moves with his fists.

    Sensing a sharp pain in his shoulder, Tae glanced down and noticed a thin trail of blood dripping from a cut. The jagged edge from the chipped table had apparently sliced through his shirt. His eyes held a smoldering fury. “You’re going to pay for ruining my favorite shirt!” He shot forward to continue the brawl once more.

    The manager and two assistants stood to the side morosely jotting down the list of broken items. He mentally estimated the cost of replacing the furniture and despondently shook his head. The room was in an uproar with the men hooting and yelling as if they were attending a boxing tournament. Even Ada was starting to get hooked. The vivid display of defense tactics was utterly spellbinding to watch.

    By now, Tae’s face had ballooned out from the injuries he acquired. His right eye was starting to show bruising and there were scratch marks along his cheeks and neck. The wound on his shoulder had stopped bleeding, but the entire sleeve was caked in dried blood. Brian wasn’t faring any better. He incurred a deep cut near the corner of his left eye and blood was smeared over half his face. His split bottom lip had swelled up to twice its size. There was also a huge black bruise already forming on his left cheek. With clothes torn and damaged beyond repair, both men were covered in sweat and blood from head to toe.

    Ruby was fed up watching them clobber each other like a couple of Neanderthals. She searched around and found Mimi crouched in a corner with a whimpering look on her blotchy face. Marching over to the younger woman, she pulled her up by the arms. “Mimi, wipe your face and quit feeling sorry for yourself. Those two goons started this because of you. So find a way to end their stupidity before we have a murder scene on our hands.”

    “But I don’t know what to do.” She daintily dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “They’re not going to listen to me.” She was still quite upset over Tae’s hurtful words. He had never yelled at her like that before. Her hopes and dreams of being his girlfriend had abruptly met with severe difficulties. Faced with such a crisis, all she could manage to do was allow her sorrow to run rampant.

    Ruby tapped her fingers along her arm as she conjured up an idea. She loudly snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it! Mimi, faint.”

    “What? Why? I feel perfectly fine.”

    “You’re the source of their conflict. Naturally, once they realize you’re upset to the point of passing out, they will cease fighting.” She stared at the blank look on Mimi’s face. “Can’t you at least pretend?”

    She sniffled pitifully before saying, “I don’t know how. I’ve never fainted before.”

    Ruby sighed. Must she do everything herself? In a split second, her fist shot out and bashed across an unsuspecting face. Mimi immediately fell into her waiting arms in an unconscious state. She dragged the limp body into the men’s view. “Will you two stop it?! Mimi just fainted!”

    In the heat of battle, they were oblivious to the surrounding and disregarded Ruby’s announcement. Their sole focus was on the important matter of outlasting the other man in the lengthy combat. Only Annie and Ada went over to check on Mimi.

    “Damn those pigheaded morons! Okay, plan A failed. Good thing I still have plan B.”

    “What are you going to do, Ruby?” Annie inquired as she supported Mimi over to a chair.

    “I’m taking matters into my own hands.” She drew out a handheld tazer from her purse. “I never thought I would resort to this, but desperate time calls for desperate measure.” Switching the metallic weapon on, she could feel the electrical current vibrate ominously in her hand. Her eyes gleamed with determination as she hurried over to the wrestling duo. She lightly tapped the tazer on Brian and Tae. Two screams were heard as both men collapsed on the hardwood floor in two immobile heaps.

    “Awwwwww…” “Damn!” “Why’d you have to do that?!” “I call foul!” “No! It’s a tie!” “That’s not fair!” “Hell, there goes our entertainment…”

    Kevin leaped to his feet. “Brian was winning too!”

    “I beg to differ! Tae was clearly in the lead!” Stephan opposed.

    Based on the chorus of boos from the crowd, Ruby’s intervention was not appreciated. She waved a disapproving finger at them and maintained a menacing posture. “Yeah, that’s right! And I’ll use my tazer again on any one of you if I have to! Party’s over, people. Get a move on it.”

    The mass of people slowly dispersed and the staff started cleaning up the place. Kevin and Stephan were still at odds over their little bet. Unable to reach a conclusion, they decided to settle the matter another day. They approached Manager Li and Kevin took out his checkbook. He wrote a check to cover the damages and handed the slip of paper to the manager. “I’m sure this will take care of your loss. I do apologize for my friend’s actions. Hopefully, he hasn’t caused too much trouble for the club.”

    After one look at the amount, the manager’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. It was more than enough to pay for the damages. “Don’t worry about the mess, Mr. Cheng. Pearl’s is more than happy to accommodate Mr. Leung’s activities at any time. You and your friends are always welcome to come back. Thank you so much for your generosity!”

    They ambled over to where Tae and Brian were lying. Stephan pulled his brother up and Kevin reached for Brian. Stephan smiled as he said, “That was a great fight. My mother would have been so proud.”

    “Guess we better take these two back to the hotel and clean them up,” Kevin mentioned good-naturedly while supporting Brian on his shoulder. “I certainly won’t envy the splitting headaches they’ll get when they wake up,”

    The women were all sitting in a booth near the back of the club. Mimi was still unconscious and sat leaning on Annie. The girls wanted to take Mimi back to her suite at the Midlight Coast Hotel. They split up and dinner together was postponed for another night.


    In a lavishly styled room, a solitary figure stood facing the quiet scenery beyond the balcony. With an indifferent glance outside, there were still cars and people moving about at the late hour of the night. A heavy black coat covered his sturdy, athletic body and reached all the way to his knees. A white collared shirt underneath displayed a ripple of sculpted muscles in his torso. He wore a silver tie draped down the front and a pair of black boots to complete his attire. The expression on his face made him appear harsh and remote, giving people the sense that he was unapproachable. The windy chills of the night didn’t bother him. On the contrary, he relished the coldness because it kept his senses alert. In one gulp, he drained the glass of brandy in his hand and felt the alcohol burned down his esophagus.

    The sound of a light tap on the door was followed by a turning of the knob. A tall, lean man walked in. Shifting his head ever so slightly to the side, he fixed a steely gaze on the newcomer. “What are his conditions?”

    “Tong Yip only wants to speak with you, Alex. He refused to even consider our proposal until he has a chance to personally go over the details with you.”

    A small lift at the corner of Alex’s mouth was the only indicator that he liked the news. Even so, the smile never reached his hard eyes. “He’s just stalling.” Walking back to his leather recliner, he slowly sank down on the plush seat. “Of course, I already expected that from him. I think it’s about time I end this cat and mouse game, don’t you?”

    “Ahhhh, but where’s the fun in that? It’s not your style to move in for the kill so quickly. Sooner or later, Yip will buckle under the pressure. Why so eager now when we could get more from him later?”

    The response was a dry chuckle. “Sam, your assessing skills are still as remarkable as ever. Actually, I want to wrap this up and focus on the deal with Wong Industrial. Call it boredom, but I’m getting restless waiting. He’ll agree to our terms. What other option does he have?”

    Sam Meng had a cultured, gentleman quality about him. With a darkish tan to his youthful complexion, small intelligent eyes, and disarming smile, one would assume he was in his early twenties. His deceptive appearance proved handy against businessmen who thought he was just an inexperienced assistant. Strolling over the couch, he settled his feet on the table and crossed them at the ankles. He pulled out a switchblade and casually tossed it back and forth between his hands. “If that is what you want, I’ll schedule for a meeting tomorrow.”

    Alex poured himself another glass of brandy and leaned back. He swiveled around and returned his gaze to the view outside the window. Once again, he carried an emotionless expression on his face. He was only thirty-six, but it often felt like he was decades older. Buried in his work, the years had passed by so quickly. Thinking back, his childhood was filled with only bleak memories and broken promises. Being the grandson of Chang Pu Lam, a prominent shipping tycoon, didn’t necessary guarantee a comfortable life.

    For three generations, the Lam Family had business involvements with the triad. Since his grandfather, the family had attained power and wealth through illegal dealings. On the front, they operated as a successful shipping corporation, but behind closed doors, the male members all involved themselves with the black market. Of course, everything was done discreetly, leaving no trail of evidence behind. It was the usual bribery, money laundering, and often times shipping of illegal goods.

    His mother was Yu Ching Lam, the only daughter of four children. As a wealthy socialite, she led a wild and reckless life. Partying, drinking, and using drugs were almost a daily routine. Yu soon realized she was pregnant at twenty-one and had no idea the identity of the father. Chang was furious at the news and demanded that she get an abortion. She had always rebelled against him and decided to have the baby out of wedlock anyway. Chang may be a corrupted man and would not think twice about committing criminal acts, but what he valued most was reputation. For humiliating the family name and disobeying his order, he coldly disowned his daughter and cut her off financially.

    To her credit, Yu attempted to raise Alex on her own, but she had never been the motherly type. She couldn’t quit her partying days and caring for her son became too much of a responsibility. After some years, she foisted him to a distant male cousin and took off with a new boyfriend. Huang Pu Lam took pity on the small child and raised him in his household. Even so, Alex was never formally acknowledged to be part of the family. He was basically a live-in worker, doing all sorts of hard labor jobs around the house.

    Growing up, he faced all kinds of verbal and physical abuse, on and off the streets. There was no one to offer him any support or love. If he wanted something, he would have to find a way to get it himself. Nothing was handed out for free. There was always an unseen price tag attached. Life was a jungle of hardship, but it taught him at a very young age how to be strong. If he fell down, he learned to pick himself back up. If someone hit him, he would return the punch twice as hard. It was survival of the fittest where the weak had to be weeded out. His will to survive and rise to the top burned deep within him. He studied when his classmates played and worked while other children watched television. Unable to endure the disdainful treatments at home, he moved out at fifteen and worked odd jobs to support himself. Soon, he went off to college on a full scholarship where he excelled in all the business courses.

    No matter the cost, he was determined to one day create a business empire of his own. By any means necessary, he vowed to show the world he was not just a poor, illegitimate offspring from a licentious affair. Therefore, he wasn’t opposed to taking shortcuts and associating himself with members of the triad. Over the years, he accumulated a vast fortune as a Corporate Management Specialist. Companies having financial and management problems would hire him at a hefty price to straighten out their organization. His service never came cheap, but the results were worth every penny. His connections with the mob proved particularly useful when intimidating business rivals. His reputation as a ruthless, but skillful entrepreneur spread among fellow colleagues in the industry.

    Four years ago, he found out that Chang was dying of liver cancer and LamCore Shipping was on the brink of bankruptcy. His uncles had been fighting each other for control of the company and the family fortune. Internal turmoil along with excessive spending on many failed operations resulted in a huge amount of debt. Relationships with triad members were rather useless in times of financial crisis. They were very practical people and turned their backs on the Lams.

    Alex recognized a golden opportunity when he saw one and decided to acquire the company. It was the perfect chance for him to hit two birds with one stone. With the right management, LamCore could, without doubt, rise back to the top. It was a gainful transaction. Additionally, he could get back at the Lams for the wretched treatments he received as a child. He could never forget the look of contempt in their eyes, especially from his grandfather. Chang lived long enough to witness the control of his company fall into the hands of the person he despised the most.

    Soon after, Alex changed the name of LamCore Shipping to LeXicore Aerial. As the new CEO, he was entitled to 10% of the net profits and 3% stock options. In three years, his expert leadership had revived the company beyond its former glory. Afterward, he went on a mission to make LeXicore Aerial the largest and most profitable shipping company worldwide. In order to achieve this goal, his first focus was on China’s vast harbors. And Jing Wong was just the right man to help him. Since Wong Industrial was the leading source in the manufacture and export of furniture in China, it was only logical to form a relationship with him. Jing had heard of Alex’s famed reputation and was enthusiastic on a joint venture.

    He even proposed marriage between his daughter and Jake. It turned out that Melissa had taken an immediate liking to Jake after meeting him. Alex and his uncle set aside their differences and agreed to the beneficial marriage. Jake gave his consent to the arrangement after knowing how much the young heiress was worth. Naturally, he had no intention of curbing his fervent activities, but it wouldn’t hurt to marry a millionaire.

    “So, how is the wedding preparations coming along?” Sam’s question disrupted Alex’s thoughts. “Last I heard Melissa just fired a bunch of people. The wedding planner was also sent packing.”

    “Mrs. Wong found someone a couple weeks ago. Everything should go according to schedule,” he answered in a lazy drawl. “Do me a favor and keep an eye on Jake for me. I don’t want him fooling around and getting into trouble again.”

    “Can’t understand how you can tolerate him for so long. The only thing he’s ever good at is wasting money and lusting after women.”

    “He does have his uses,” he said in a calculating way.

    Sam stood up, prepared to retire for the night. “Anyway, you should get some rest. The negotiation with Tong Yip will probably take a good part of tomorrow morning.”

  8. #28
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 27 – Ambush & Pursuit

    “Isn’t it simply a gorgeous day? The sky is blue, the air is fresh, and the weather is just perfect.” Ruby took a deep breath and sighed blissfully. “Makes a person feel so alive.”

    “You’re only saying that because we have the day off and Tae isn’t here to bother you,” Ada said.

    “Yup! You know me so well.” Ruby was beaming from ear to ear.

    Due to his injuries, Tae was taking a week to recuperate and the film’s production was temporarily placed on hold. Both Ada and Ruby had a couple days to actually relax. It was a good break from all the hard work. Annie had invited them to accompany her on a shopping spree. They reached Annie’s dark green rental car and got inside. Ada sat in the back while Ruby took the passenger seat.

    “I hope Tae will recover soon so we can wrap up the picture. Otherwise, the release date of the film will definitely be affected,” Ada spoke out in concern. “Poor guy. He must be in a lot of pain.”

    “I bet he’s faking it. A couple scratches and he’s already lying down on the job.”

    “But I heard he was hurt pretty badly. Let’s see… if I remember correctly, the doctor said he had a dislocated shoulder, sprained ankle, two broken fingers, and a light concussion.”

    “Eh, he’ll live.”

    “Gee, show a little compassion,” Annie stated. “After all, you did shock him with 90,000 volts of electricity. I’m surprise he doesn’t have severe muscle spasm.”

    “He should be thanking me for using the tazer. Otherwise, his brain would have been punched out and squashed to pieces,” she predicted. “If I wasn’t a quick thinker, Tae and Brian would be lying on hospital beds right now.”

    “Yes, yes, our heroic Ruby has once again saved the day,” Annie indulgently praised. “Do we need to award you with a huge trophy?”

    “Well, maybe not a huge trophy, but a good size plaque would be nice.”

    Ada patted Ruby’s head from behind. “How about we cover your shopping expenses for today? Would that do?”

    “That’s even better!”


    “Seventy million and not a penny more,” Alex stated in a decisive voice. He and Sam were sitting in a large boardroom in the midst of negotiating with Tong Yip, president of Ting Hua Solutions. Alex had been after the company for over a year and was now finalizing the contract. Ting Hua Solutions was a local shipping company, but it possessed a large customer base in the northern part of China and even extended to Japan. The loyal support of long time patrons was what Alex wanted. The goal was to buy out Ting Hua and merge it under LeXicore Aerial.

    “Mr. Lam, you can’t possibly be serious.” Tong was an old man nearing his sixtieth year and the fine wrinkles on his face revealed the tremendous stress he was under. He was clearly not pleased with the price. “Ting Hua Solutions is worth at least three times that amount. There is no way I can get the board members to approve the transaction.”

    “Excluding all debts and expenses, Ting Hua’s current net worth is only fifty million. Mr. Yip, I’m already being very generous. You won’t find a better deal elsewhere. Who would want to take on a company with so many problems?”

    Tong knew Alex was right. At the moment, the company was faced with several litigations and needed immediate cash to cover the increasing liabilities. Creditors were already rushing payments. With the prospect of bankruptcy, he had little choice but to consider the offer. He made one last attempt for a higher price. “How about raising it to one hundred? Even at that amount, I’m selling at an extreme loss.”

    Alex wasn’t in the business to be a philanthropist. He gave a light shrug and glanced at his watch. “We’ve wasted enough time. The offer stands at seventy. You have the choice to accept or decline. I never force people to do anything against their will.” He motioned for Sam to gather up the paperwork. A resolute expression settled over his features. “Call me when you make up your mind. Then again, by that time I can’t guarantee I will still be interested in the deal. Good day, Mr. Yip.”

    As they made a move to the door, Tong held up his hand to stall them. “Wait…. all right. Where do I sign?”


    Later, in a black Mercedes, Sam took a bottle of chardonnay from the mini fridge while Alex was staring at the screen of his laptop. He was analyzing a spreadsheet filled with stock prices.

    “Closing the deal went smoother than I originally thought,” Sam voiced his revelation.

    “It would have been more difficult if Tong wasn’t facing so much pressure from creditors. You were quite efficient in leaking out the news.”

    “It was easy enough. I let one corporate officer know about the impending lawsuits over damaged cargoes and the news spread like wildfire.”

    Alex gave a sardonic twist of his lips. “They’re so worried about their own gains that they fail to see the bigger picture. Within one year, the company would have settled their financial matters. Too bad. Their loss is our gain.”

    “So, how do you want to celebrate tonight?”

    “You go on without me. I have several reports to research.”

    “Alex, slow down and relax a little. At this rate, you’re going to work yourself into an early grave.”

    “Don’t worry. I’m in great health.” His eyes never left the computer screen.

    Sam shook his head and poured the wine into to two glasses. “You’re hopeless.”

    “No, I’m focused.”

    The car abruptly screeched to a rough stop. Alex and Sam nearly plunged to the front had it not been for their seatbelts. “What’s happening, Ian?” Sam questioned. “Why did we stop?”

    “There is a person lying in the middle of the road.”

    Sure enough, a man was laying face down a couple feet away. He wasn’t moving and appeared to be unconscious. The two-lane highway was in an isolated area. Except for a local shopping center twenty miles away, there were very few people living nearby.

    “Eric, go check it out, but be careful.”

    “Yes, Mr. Lam.” Alex’s personal bodyguard got out of the passenger seat. He drew a handgun from his belt for protection and approached the body. He turned the man over with his foot. There were no signs of injuries. He bent down for a closer look. The man suddenly opened his eyes and pulled out a long knife from under his jacket. At such close range, Eric failed to react in time and was stabbed in the stomach. He reflexively shot the assailant in the chest as he staggered backward. The man died instantly. Pressing his hand on the knife wound, Eric turned around and yelled, “It’s an ambush! Get out of here!”

    Before anyone could react, gunshots were heard firing at the car. “Eric! Take cover!” Alex screamed at his bodyguard. It was already too late. Eric was caught in the crossfire and his body was riddled with bullets. Falling to the ground, his blood quickly gushed forth, drenching the hard concrete. Ian slammed his foot on the gas pedal and the smell of burned rubber filled the air. The Mercedes was chased down the road by two white cars and several men on motorcycles.

    “Shitty bastards!” Sam cursed as reached for the revolver strapped to his ankle and rolled down the window. He dangerously leaned out and started firing at the men. His bullets met their marks and two motorists crashed into nearby trees. He stared death in the eyes as the men from the white cars shot back at him. His ammunition soon ran out, forcing him to pull back inside and reload. The white cars had managed to catch up to them. One slammed against the driver’s side of the Mercedes and another rear-ended them. They nearly swerved off the road and into the ravine on the left.

    By this time, Alex had crawled into the passenger seat and opened the glove compartment. He rummaged through the stack of papers and located two semi-automatic pistols. “Sam, cover me. I’m going up.” His fully intended to eliminate the car behind them. After pressed a button to release the sunroof, he slowly lifted his head out. He took perfect aim and pulled the trigger. The bullet burst through the glass window of the white car and penetrated the driver’s skull. The car veered off the road while Sam continued to fire at the men in the remaining car. To his surprise, the car unexpectedly slowed down. Behind them, a man stuck a revolver outside the passenger’s window and blew several holes in their tires. Traveling at such a high speed, the Mercedes lurched and almost tipped over.

    Alex cursed under his breath. “Ian, step on it!” Even with two flat tires, Ian was able to move ahead. He remembered a pack of nail tacks he saw in the glove compartment. Finding the large container, he poured a fair amount on his palms. It was payback time. Lowering the window, he threw the nails out and listened for the sound of popped tires. “That should give us several minutes to lose them. Drive toward the market place.”

    Ian followed Alex’s order while Sam called for backup from his cell phone. “We’re being attacked by a group of assassins. We’re heading east. Yeah, the Zing Zing Marketplace. I want you to gather as many of our men as possible and meet us there.”

    The tires on the vehicle were completely deflated by the time they reached the edge of the small town. In addition to that, there were smoke coming from under the hood. Sam glanced behind him and spotted the same white car along with several motorcycles moving directly at them. “Shit! They’re still after us!” he exclaimed in a maddened voice.

    “We have to split up.” Alex tossed one of his pistols to Ian. “If all goes well, we’ll meet up at my villa.” The three men promptly took off in different directions, leaving behind a wrecked vehicle.


    “Gosh, Ada, you sure bought a lot of stuffs,” Ruby said as she juggled the baggage from one hand to another.

    “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Everything was just so cheap. At least I didn’t attempt to bring the entire store back. Look at Annie.”

    Annie was trailing behind them with an armful of boxes. She could barely see over the cartons and a plastic bag hanged from each of her fingers. “Hey, I have tons of people to buy gifts for. And some of these bags are yours, Ada.”

    They made their way back to the car and placed everything in the trunk. Annie sighed and got in the driver’s seat. “Dang, I’m tired. Think we should call it a day. Enough shopping for me.”

    “All that hard work is making me thirsty.” Ruby noticed a juice store half a block away. “I’m going to get something to drink. You guys want anything?”

    “I’ll go with you,” Ada volunteered.

    “I’ll stay here and carsit. Could you get me a lemonade?” Annie leaned back to rest her head as she watched her friends leave. It was already late in the afternoon, but the number of people seemed to be increasing. It was getting too crowded for her taste. Good thing they went early and finished all the shopping. Otherwise, it was going to be even worse later on.

    “Excuse me, ma’am. I was wondering if you could help me out.”

    Annie raised her head at the sound of the voice. She instantly recognized the man she had briefly met at The Red Mirage. However, he didn’t appear to remember her. Looming over her in a dark gray hand tailored suit, he stood out from other people like a noble peacock among ordinary pheasants. There was still the same intense aura surrounding him. Was he even aware of the effects he had on people? She silently wondered what he was doing in this part of town.

    “What can I do for you?” she asked.

    “My car broke down. Is it possible for you to give me a lift? My house is only a couple miles away from here. I’ll compensate you for the trouble.”

    She never made the habit of picking strangers up. After all, she only met him once and there was no telling what kind of person he was. One could never be too cautious in this day and age. “I’m sorry, but my friends and I are in a rush. How about I let you borrow my phone. You can call someone to pick you up,” she kindly suggested.

    Out of the corner of his eyes, Alex saw a group of men searching for him. Damn it! He had been trying to escape them for the last half hour, but it seemed like they had the entire market area surrounded. One on one, there was no doubt he could eliminate them with little effort. Unfortunately, he was outnumbered and needed to leave immediately. He came closer to the mini coupe and pulled aside his jacket. Annie unexpectedly found herself staring down the barrel of a semiautomatic pistol. She was not at all in a pleasant situation.

    “Unlock the doors.”

    Annie knew better than to resist an armed man. She pressed a button to release the lock. Alex quickly climbed in the back seat behind her. “Now drive.”

    “I can’t. I don’t have the key,” she revealed with a racing heart.

    He pressed the weapon against her side. “I suggest you don’t play games with me. If you want to keep your pretty head on your neck, get me out of here.” He whispered the words close by her ear. The deep timbre of his tone sent cold chills down her spinal cord. He sure didn’t appear like the type to give idle threats.

    “I really don’t have the key,” she truthfully responded. “My friend has my purse. Even if you shoot me, I can’t jumpstart the car with my bare fingers.”

    He cursed under his breath. “I guess we’ll have to wait for your friend then. Put your hands on the steering wheel where I can see them. My advice is to not do anything foolish,” he warned.

    Not wanting to incur his wrath and possibly earn a premature death, she followed his instruction. Just then, Ada and Ruby were on their way back to the car with their drinks in hand. She winked her eyes and made faces, desperately hoping they would get the hint and leave. One person in danger was much better than involving two more.

    Ruby scratched her head and glanced over at Ada. “Why is Annie’s face twitching like that?”

    “Maybe she’s having a muscle cramp. Those can get pretty painful.”

    “Tell me about it. I once had a foot cramp and I seriously thought I was going to pass out from the pain. Felt like it was slowly breaking in half.”

    Why are they standing there chatting?! Annie silently wondered to herself. Can’t they see something is wrong?! Aiya! No! No! No! Don’t come any closer! Get the hell away while you still have the chance! She wriggled her nose and winked harder. She was beginning to feel a little dizzy from all the facial contortions. Despite of the fact that she was trying her best to warn her friends, they continued walking toward the car.

    “Annie, are you okay? Why are you….” Ruby’s voice trailed off at the sight of Alex in the back seat with a gun pointing at Annie. She stood frozen on the spot, unable to move.

    Ada came up right behind Ruby. “I have your lemonade, Annie. We got a great deal too. Buy two drinks, get one free…” Her jaw literally dropped open as she took in the precarious scene before her. The drinks fell from her limp hands and crashed to the ground. She was ready to release an earsplitting scream, but Alex forestalled her.

    “Utter a single sound and I’ll send a bullet to her brain. Which one of you has the key to the car?” he questioned.

    Ada swallowed and fearfully raised her hand.

    “Good. Get in and drive. Now!”

    Ruby and Ada scrambled into the car. Annie had to move to the back and sit next to Alex. “Head south. There is a villa fifteen miles from here.” When Ada sat perfectly still, he questioned, “Why aren’t we moving?”

    Her hands started perspiring as she managed to croak out, “Which way is south?” Her sense of direction had never been too good and she often got lost driving around. The added pressure was making her even more nervous.

    Alex took one look at her trembling form and sighed. Of all the cars to hijack, he was unlucky enough to pick one with three women in it. It would be a miracle if he escaped this ordeal alive. “South is behind us.”

    Ada turned on the engine and maneuvered the car around. She slowly weaved through the mass of people. She was shaking so badly that it was becoming rather difficult to hold on to the wheel.

    Alex saw how stressed Ada was and knew it would be in his best interest to calm her down so they could reach the destination in one piece. “I’m not going to hurt anybody if you girls do as I say.”

    “Forgive me for not having too much faith in a man holding a gun to my head,” Annie responded dryly.

    He gave a quick glance at the woman beside him. He knew she was scared by the slight tremor in her body and pallor of her face. In spite of being involved in a holdup, she was able to keep her composure enough to blast him with sarcasm. Her eyes alone held such intensity in their luminous depths. He was unexpectedly curious about the woman he held captive.

    As they drove past the group of men on the hunt for Alex, he ducked down and shielded his face. One of the men stared into the car and recognized Alex’s outfit. “He’s in that green mini coupe! After him!” The men jumped into their car and motorcycles. Another chase ensued.

    From the rearview mirror, Alex caught sight of the men hot on their trail. “They’re gaining on us! Go faster!” he shouted.

    “I’m sorry, but there are pedestrians around! I won’t be held liable for any hit-and-run deaths! If you don’t like it, you can step out of the car.”

    “Don’t get sassy with me. Those men are dangerous assassins. They catch up to us and everyone in this car will be dead. They won’t leave any witnesses around.”

    Paying absolutely no heed to the people on the streets, the men loaded their firearms and started shooting at the mini coupe. Alex and Annie crouched lower in their seats while Ruby and Ada bent their heads and released terrified screams. Ada had enough motivation to send the little car rocketing out of the market place and onto a bumpy unpaved road. Incredibly, she didn’t crash into anybody.

    Ruby had her hands clasped together and was praying to Buddha, Jesus, Allah, and every other gods she could think of. She figured it was not a good time to be picky with religion, especially when their lives were in jeopardy. She was not about to reject any sort of help, regardless of the source. “Please don’t let us die! Please don’t let us die! Please don’t let us die… ” she repeated over and over.

    Having to hold Annie hostage, endure Ada driving like a maniac, and listen to Ruby’s loud prayers, Alex found it hard to think straight. Amidst the chaotic screaming from Ada and gunshots from the pursuing men in the back, he believed things couldn’t possibly get worst. He was wrong.

    A motorcycle abruptly came out from the bushes on the side. Sitting to Alex’s right, Annie was unintentionally obstructing any direct hit to him. The assassin had to get rid of her first in order to reach his target. He drew a revolver from his belt and aimed it straight at her. Alex reacted out of instinct and shifted her away from the window. She was pushed down in time to avoid the shot. The bullet pierced him in the left shoulder as he fell down on top of her. Heedless of the gaping wound, he fired back at the assassin. The man tumbled to the ground with a hole in his forehead. The motorcycle crashed into the following vehicles and they momentarily fell behind in the chase.

    Annie was totally stunned by what happened. Alex had risked his life to save hers. He could have used her as a shield to protect himself, but he chose to shove her aside. He was still bleeding and some of his blood had seeped into her clothes. With a hand covering his shoulder, Alex leaned back and said, “There is a bridge down the road. Cross it before they do.”

    Ada stepped on the gas pedal and the car took off. The bridge soon came into view. “Once we’re on the other side, stop the car,” Alex instructed in a steady voice despite his pale face.

    Ada shifted the car into park mode a couple feet from the bridge. The women watched Alex opened the door and got out. They wondered why he wanted to stop when the group of hired hit men was not far behind them. He took out several gas lighters from his pockets and placed them along the wooden overpass. Standing back, he used his gun and blew the lighters apart. The gasoline from the small tubes sent flames spreading across the bridge. The fire rapidly engulfed the wood and destroyed the chance of the assassins catching up to them. At least for a short time anyway.

    He struggled to reach the car and collapsed inside. “My villa is located beyond that hill.” He pointed to the sloppy mound ahead of them. “The entire perimeter is gated and I’ve installed a state of the art security system throughout the house. We should be safe there.”

    At the moment, the left side of his body was soaked in blood. Although he had kidnapped them at gunpoint and nearly had them killed, Annie couldn’t watch him bleed to death. “Ruby, you can quit praying now. Open the glove compartment and get me the thick towel in there.”

    Ruby crossed herself and breathed out, “Amen. Thank you, Lord Almighty for saving our lives.” She turned around with a peevish look on her face. Seeing that Alex was no longer capable of harming them, she said, “I don’t know why you should bother tending to his injury.”

    “Just give it to me.”

    Ruby mumbled some disgruntled words, but tossed the thick cloth over. “Thank you.” Annie pressed the towel down on the open wound to stop the blood flow. Alex was barely conscious as they arrived at the villa. “The code to unlock the gate is 231970,” he whispered before fainting.

    “Hey, he’s out cold!” Ruby eagerly exclaimed. “Let’s ditch him on the road and get the hell out of here.”

    “We can’t leave him all alone,” Annie objected.

    “Why not?”

    “Because he’ll die.”

    “We can call the police. They’ll send someone over. This place is certainly not safe to stick around for long.”

    “I will not abandon him in this condition,” she persisted.

    “All right, we’re getting nowhere arguing. Let’s be democratic and vote. Those who don’t want to stay behind with a dangerous member of the triad, raise your hand.” Ruby injected her hand up in the air.

    Annie smiled. “That’s only one vote for you. Those in favor of assisting a severely injured human being in desperate need of help, raise your hand.” She placed her vote.

    Ada had yet to make a decision. They expectantly stared at her. Her eyes warily shifted from Ruby to Annie, then back again. “What? Can’t I be neutral?” she timidly inquired. “I hate taking sides between friends.”

    “You can’t stay neutral because we need you to break the tie,” Ruby answered. “Now, which will it be? We dump the guy or endanger our lives for a person we don’t know?”

    “I… I…”

    “Stop pressuring her. She knows we can’t in good conscience desert a bleeding man, right Ada?”

    “I guess,” she hesitantly agreed.

    “Look who’s putting on the pressure. Annie, now is not the time to be softhearted. He’s a cold-blooded killer fully capable of murder. You saw it with your own eyes. This man you’re trying to save is most likely gonna slit our throats the moment he wakes up.”

    “Ruby makes a very good point,” Ada amicably stated while nodding her head.

    “He attacked those people because they were shooting at him. Self defense is not a crime. Besides, he didn’t have to take a bullet for me if he wanted to kill us.”

    “Annie is correct too.”

    “He only did it because we can aid him escape those hit men,” Ruby countered.

    “That does make sense.”

    “But the fact remains that I would be the one bleeding to death right now if he hadn’t shielded me from the window. How can I ditch him during this crucial time?”

    “That’s true,” Ada sided with Annie.

    “We wouldn’t even be in this situation if he didn’t kidnap us at gunpoint. And didn’t you and Ada warn me not to associate with the mob?”

    “Yup, we did say that.” Again, there was a supportive answer.

    “Whether he’s involved with the mob or not shouldn’t be a factor in saving a life.”

    There was a contemplative look on Ada’s face as she tapped a finger on her chin. “Can’t argue with you there.”

    Ruby and Annie ended their argument to yell at Ada in unison. “Why do you agree to everything?!”

    She cringed at their outburst before replying, “Well, you both gave such excellent reasoning. I really shouldn’t interfere.” She smiled apologetically at them.

    “Fine, remain cold hearted if you want. I won’t force you to stay. I’ll take care of him myself.” Annie proceeded to support Alex toward the gate.

    “Annieeeeeee!” Ruby hollered. “Be reasonable! Don’t do it! You come back here!” She may not agree with her best friend on the matter, but she could never leave Annie alone in a dangerous place with an unconscious man. She opened the door and jumped out of the car. “All right, all right, I’ll help you!”

    “Hey guys, wait for me! I’m coming too!” Ada shifted the gear and drove to the front of the house.

    The three women made it to the living room and deposited Alex’s body on the couch before collapsing on the carpeted floor. It was not an easy task to haul a muscular male body around. Ruby was breathing heavily. “The things I do for friends. I don’t know why I’m involved in this.” After taking a moment to rest, she finally noticed Alex’s ashen face. “He doesn’t look so good. We better do something soon before he kicks the bucket.”

    “We need to remove the bullet and clean the wound before it gets infected,” Annie pointed out.

    Ruby shook her head. “I’m not going to do it.”

    Annie and Ruby stared at Ada. “Well, don’t look at me. I have no clue how to take out a bullet.”

    “Don’t you have a degree as a registered nurse?” Annie questioned.

    “I enrolled in several courses, but I never completed all of them to get certified. I only know the basics like administering antibiotic shots and taking blood samples.”

    “Why? What happened?” Ruby asked.

    “Tending to bloody human flesh makes me nauseous so I dropped out of the few remaining classes.”

    Annie went over to carefully examine the wound. After a moment, she said, “The bullet doesn’t appear to be lodged too deep. I’m sure the three of us can handle it. I mean, how hard could it be to remove a tiny metal ball?”

  9. #29
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 28 – Operation

    A figure swathed completely in black with a mask covering his head blended into the dark night. The suit camouflaged him well as he silently slipped into the building unnoticed by the security guards. Climbing the stairs to the fourth floor, he cautiously headed down the hall and turned the corner. Taking out a metallic card from his back pocket, he slid it down a slot above the door to open it. Once inside, he went to the office in the corner and deftly picked the lock. Without wasting any time, he immediately turned on the computer and attempted to hack into the database system. The next rotation of security checkup was in fifteen minutes. He had to be quick gathering the electronic data.

    After several minutes, his eyes lit up as he found what he was after. However, his goal was unsuccessful when a window popped up requesting a key to unlock the files. Damn it! He silently cursed his luck. Why wasn’t he informed about a key? There was nothing he could do now. He turned off the computer and made sure nothing was changed or moved in the office before leaving. Unexpectedly, the sound of approaching footsteps was heard coming toward the office.

    Without a sound, he leaped on the tall cabinet next to the wall and precariously lay on top. The door opened and two security guards walked in holding a flashlight. They started scanning the room. His hand crept to the gun tucked underneath his belt. If need be, he would not hesitate to strike. They stood directly under him and stopped. With the belief that they felt his presence, he was about to jump down and fight his way out. It came as a surprise when the sound of a gunshot echoed throughout the building. The guards instantly ran out, locking the door behind them. He took the opportunity to make his exit. While running down the stairs, he heard several people engaged in a struggle in the hall.

    He cracked open the door leading out of the stairway and saw four people fighting not too far away. Three guards were trying to apprehend one man also clad in black with a mask on. There was a bloody wound on the left side of his waist. Apparently, he was the one that got shot. If he wasn’t injured, he had the ability to fend off the others and make his escape. It didn’t help matter that the guards kept aiming for his abdomen.

    The man sitting in the staircase contemplated whether he should assist the masked intruder. After all, an enemy of his enemy could be perceived as a friend. He wasn’t in the greatest of mood since he had failed to get what he came for. Punching a couple faces might improve his disposition. He was in need of some entertainment anyway.

    He thrust the door open and caught a guard by surprise. The force of the blow sent him staggering to the ground. He easily blocked the baton striking at him from another man. It was now two guards against him, but he managed to grab both their batons and twisted the wooden weapons out of unsuspecting hands. He whacked each guard on the head with their own batons. With his partner out, the other man pulled out his gun, but it was kicked to the side before he even had a chance to pull the trigger.

    Not giving his foe the chance to react, the masked man shifted behind and brought his hand down. It connected with the back of the guard’s neck, knocking him to the ground. Sensing movement from behind, he turned and kicked the third guard directly in the chest. The guard was sent flying against the wall and landed in an unconscious heap.

    The alarm siren had been triggered. Knowing the time to get off the premise was limited, the masked man supported the other injured intruder and ran to the opposite side of the building. The heavy sound of rapidly approaching footsteps was close behind them. They headed toward the large window in the far corner. Taking out his pistol, he shot at the glass window, creating a loud shattering noise. Shards of glass cascaded down leaving a large opening gap in the frame.

    The roof the first floor and second floor were situated so that there was an area for them to land on. They leaped out through the broken window and landed on the narrow roof of the second floor. They continued jumping to the first, then ground level. The group of men behind them was ready to give chase; however, a deep voice halted the pursuit.

    “Forget about them. Go check to see if anything is missing or if they had infiltrated the computer hard drive. They’ll be back and next time we’ll be ready for them.”

    “Yes, Dragon.” Marty Liang respectfully gave a light bow to his boss and motioned for his followers to clean up the area.


    Meanwhile, the men in black were driving away in a car. Both sighed in relief to see that they were not followed.

    “You all right?”

    The injured man slightly grimaced in pain. He held his hand against his wound. It had momentarily stopped bleeding. “I’ll live. The bullet only grazed the skin.” He pulled off his black ski mask. “Thanks for the help, Kev. Or should I call you Black Hawk?”

    Kevin was slightly shocked to find out his identity had been revealed. After a moment of silence, he started laughing and also took his mask off. “And here I thought I was the sneaky one. How long have you known?”

    Stephan smiled. “Since our third meeting. Come on, man. We practically grew up together. Did you actually believe a voice synthesizer and some dark clothes could conceal your identity from me? I deserve more credit than that.”

    “I was hoping you wouldn’t find out until a couple more weeks. I tend to forget about your perceptive abilities. I’ll make a note not to be so careless in the future. By the way, what the hell were you thinking going off to investigate Marty Liang without informing me? You could have been killed tonight.”

    “Hey, you don’t tell me everything either. You were there too. Guess we’re even.”

    Kevin sighed. “Didn’t want to involve you in unnecessary trouble.”

    “That’s where you’re wrong. We’re supposed to be a team. We came here with the same mission and that is to bring down the Red Scale Gang’s operation. Yet you have been acting like you alone can finish the job. I’m here to help too.”

    “Sorry, didn’t mean to leave you out of things. I thought it would be better for me to get a solid lead before letting you know.”

    Stephan shrugged and leaned back against the seat. “It’s all right. So, what did you find out?”

    “Nothing much. I couldn’t gain access into the hard drive. I need to have a key to unlock the computer. My guess is the key should be with Marty Liang.”

    “That guy is constantly surrounded by bodyguards. It won’t be easy getting near him.”

    “I’ll find a way. So, you with me?” There was a hint of challenge in the question.

    “Of course.” Stephan started to chuckle, evidently finding the situation amusing. “We’re going to get ourselves killed one of these days.”

    “Yeah, but what a way to go out.”


    Back at the villa, the girls were contemplating which one of them should remove the bullet from Alex’s shoulder. It was finally decided that Ada was the most knowledgeable; thus, she was the designated surgeon for the moment.

    “Why do I have to do it? Can’t I just stand in the back and direct?”

    “I don’t have a steady hand like you,” Ruby pointed out.

    “But I’ve never done this before. Besides, I barely completed a couple courses in nursing.”

    “There is a first time for everything. Now’s the perfect chance for you to start practicing,” Annie said reassuringly.

    “We don’t even have the proper tools to perform this kind of surgery.”

    “Eh, we’ll work with what we got,” Ruby said indifferently.

    Ada stood hovering over Alex in contemplation. The pressure of saving someone’s life added with the sight of all the blood was making her extremely queasy. She was not at all confident she could do it.

    “You have nothing to worry about. Ruby and I will be right beside you as your loyal assistants.” Annie patted her on the back and smiled. “You can do it. We have faith in you.”

    With two pairs of hopeful eyes staring at her, Ada swallowed down her fear and nodded her head in agreement. They had found a large first aid kit in the kitchen cabinet. They disinfected a pair of tweezers and a small switch blade with some alcohol. Ruby located several pairs of latex gloves. She turned around and gave a creepy smile. “Hehehehe. Do I look like a surgeon with these on?” She wiggled her fingers.

    “Quit playing around and hand me a pair,” Annie said with a disapproved look.

    They gathered around Alex’s immobile body and began to operate. Annie had initially thought it would not be hard to dislodge the bullet, but after twenty heart stopping minutes, she changed her mind.

    “Damn! He’s bleeding like a faucet!” Ruby cried out.

    Apparently, the metal piece was positioned rather close to a blood vein. The more Ada probed, the more blood started to flow out, making it difficult to hold a firm grasp. She had to stop for fear of causing more damage. By now, her face was as placid as a sheet.

    Annie was frantically pressing on the wound with a thick towel. “Snap out of it, Ada! You better not pass out on us.”

    “Is he going to die?” Ruby asked with a frown. “Do we have to bury him? I don’t think there is a shovel around here. I’ve never buried anyone before. Do you think it’s a very messy job?”

    “No, he is not going to die. And no, we’re not burying anyone today,” Annie exasperatedly replied. She already had enough to worry about. It didn’t help to have Ada on the verge of swooning and Ruby chatting nonsense in her ears. She glanced at her friends and decided she had to take control of the situation.

    “Ada, quit staring at the blood like it’s about to swallow you. For goodness sake, look away if it bothers you that much. And Ruby, go through the first aid kit to see if there’s anything else we can use. Snap to it people! We don’t have all day!”

    “I don’t know why we have to go through all this trouble,” Ruby mumbled as she crawled over to the small box on the sofa. “He’s a goner for sure. We’re only wasting our efforts.” She dumped all the contents out and slowly started to rummage through them. After awhile, her eye lit up. With her newfound object in hand, she exclaimed, “Hey Annie, look what I found!” She waved the pack of acupuncture needles in the air. “Didn’t you study several months of acupuncture with that old doctor in the countryside? Do you think we can use these needles?”

    “Good thinking, Ruby! I knew you were useful for something.”

    “Hey! What are you talking about?! I’ve always been a useful person.”

    “Yeah, yeah, you’re rare jewel. Now hand me the needles.”

    Ruby tossed the pack to her friend’s outstretched hand. Annie started to disinfect the needles with the fire from a match. “There is a technique that if applied correctly, could slow down the bleeding. I haven’t done it in years, but we just have to take a chance. I’ll apply the needles to the pressure points around his shoulder. If this works, it will be easier to remove the bullet.”

    Ada stared at the way Annie was drawing the long, sharp needles back and forth over the small flame. The light ominously reflected off the thin, flexible steel and intensified her lightheadedness. In a short time span, she experienced a death defying car chase, being shot at, and mending a gory wound. Now, needles are being whipped out. It was too much to handle. Her eyes rolled up and she promptly slid to the carpet in a dead faint.

    Ada!” Both Annie and Ruby rushed over to her side. Ruby lightly slapped her cheeks in an attempt to wake her, but was unable to get a response from her. “Is she going to be okay?”

    “I think all the drama today got to her. She’ll be fine. Let her rest for awhile. Now come over here and help me.”

    Ruby stuck her lower lip out in a disgruntled pout. “Why didn’t I think of fainting to get some sleep? That Ada sure isn’t a good friend. Didn’t even clue me in on her plan.”

    Much to Annie’s relief, the needles worked. The small piece of metal was successfully taken from Alex’s shoulder. Ruby slumped back and blew out a sigh of relief while Annie finished wrapping bandages around the wound. “Do you really think he’ll survive?”

    “I don’t know. He lost a lot of blood. Either way, we’ll have to take him to a hospital tomorrow. It’s too late to go anywhere now. Plus we all need a rest.”

    “Sounds good to me.” Ruby yawned loudly as she grabbed a couple clean towels and made herself a pillow. She crawled over to Ada’s sleeping form. After plopping down on the other end of the large sofa, she immediately closed her eyes.

    Annie took the time to clean up the area before taking her rest. It was a while later that she quietly laid down on the recliner near the window. The events of the day had left her senses reeling. Her attention was fixed on the pale, crescent moon peaking through the glass window. The stillness in the air should have lulled her to sleep. Yet in her waking moments, her thoughts were filled with images of Kevin. What was this power he held over her? She could envision him casting one of his yearning looks at her. His eyes had a way of worming into her soul, making her feel so defenseless. It had only been a couple days since she last saw him, but she already missed him dearly.

    “Stop thinking of him and go to sleep. You can see him when we get back to the city.”

    Annie turned her head around. “You’re still awake?”

    Although her eyes remained closed, Ruby drowsily grinned. “I was about to, but your dreamy sighs kept me up. I know you’re in love with the guy, but some of us need to sleep here.”

    “I’m not in love with him,” she defensively denied.

    “Yeah, you are. It’s so obvious. Why else would you constantly carry around that bracelet he gave you? Just admit it.”

    Annie sighed. “Kevin and I….” Her voice trailed off as she slightly shook her head. “It won’t work.”

    Ruby recognized the familiar anguish in Annie’s tone. She shot up to a sitting position and frowned. “There you go again, thinking of that bastard. How many times have I told you to forget him? As far as I’m concerned, he got what he deserved. He was lucky I wasn’t around. I would have sliced him up into sixteen pieces and feed them to the dogs! That rotten slime ball!”

    “You shouldn’t talk about the dead like that. Nicholas already paid for his actions.”

    “Then why do you continue to blame yourself?” The question met with silence. Annie’s answer was the slight flicker of pain on her features. “I don’t care if he is dead,” Ruby heatedly remarked. “I forbid you from feeling guilty for that heinous man any longer. Just thinking about him makes my blood boil. I knew he was trouble the moment I met him, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    She got up and sat down next to Annie. “Why are you apologizing? Don’t apologize. Why should you feel bad? He’s the one that screwed up. If anyone should feel sorry, it’s him.” She momentarily sighed. “You like Kevin and he likes you. A blind person can see that you two are made for each other. Give yourself a chance to be happy. You deserve it. Kevin is not Nicholas.”

    “I didn’t know you were on such great terms with him.”

    She lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Ehhhh, I’m such a noble person that I’ve already forgotten the fact that he almost killed me with his reckless driving.” She gave Annie a tight hug. “You can’t carry on like this forever.”

    Annie smiled. “I know. Your words of wisdom are truly priceless.”

    Ruby giggled at the mock praise. “Good, now that I’ve cheered you up, I’m going to sleep.” She slid back to the corner of the sofa and quickly dosed into dreamland. Annie continued to smile at her friend. She had such a tough mindset that nothing seemed to be able to dampen her mood. Easy to anger and easy to please. Annie picked up her jacket and covered Ruby with it. Ada was also sound asleep on the other sofa.

    She reached for her purse and slipped the silver bracelet on her hand. The illuminating metal softly glowed beneath the moonlight. Its beauty never failed to amaze her. She was becoming too attached to it. The idea of parting with it brought such lingering sadness to her. She heaved an inward sigh. “Come on, Annie, you’re being sentimental again,” she quietly chastised herself. She placed the cool metal against her cheek and thought of how nice it would feel to stay in her dream just a little longer? To be free even for a short while was such an enlivening thought.


    He lifted his heavy eyelids. The fog in his mind slowly cleared and the events prior to him blacking out returned. His left shoulder felt like liquid fire was poured over it. The searing pain in his upper body was a good indication that he wasn’t dead yet. Thank God for little miracles. Pain… he was used to the feeling. Either physical or emotional, he had grown up keeping a tight control over it. His hand searched for the gun he usually kept strapped to his waist. It was gone. Panic barely registered in his mind when a soft voice spoke to him.

    “I was wondering how long it will take before you wake up.” Alex’s head rolled to the side and he finally noticed the young woman he had threatened at gunpoint. She was sitting crossed leg on a recliner approximately ten feet away with a cup in her hand.

    “Where’s my gun?”

    His gruff demand didn't seem to bother her. She calmly picked up the weapon next to her and tossed it over to him. It landed just within his reach. He instantly picked up the gun and weighed it in his hand. It was empty. He gave her an icy stare. “I assume you took out the remaining bullets.”

    “Of course. I’m not foolish enough to hand you a loaded weapon.”

    Still lying on his back, he grinned at the curt comeback. Glancing down at his bandaged shoulder, he suddenly asked, “Did you save me?”

    “Actually, my friends and I saved you. How do you feel?”

    “Like I just got ran over by a truck.”

    “At least you’re still alive. You were bleeding quite profusely. To be honest, I didn’t think you’d make it. Anyway, you best check yourself into a hospital to have that wound examine. I took the bullet out, but there’s still the chance it will get infected.” She stood up and went to the coffee table. There were a tea set and some crackers on a plate. She poured another cup of tea and approached him. “Drink this. I’ve looked around and there isn’t much to eat.”

    He forced himself into a sitting position and took the cup. “Why did you save me?”

    She took a sip from her cup and shrugged nonchalantly. “You were an unconscious person in need of help,” she simply stated.

    “If our roles were reversed, I wouldn’t have saved you,” he truthfully told her.

    “Then I hope I will never be in the position to ask you for a favor.”

    “Weren’t you scared when I held a gun to your head?”

    “Terrified. My nerves have yet to completely recover.”

    “You sure don’t show it.”

    “What I show and what I feel can be completely different. Wearing one’s emotions on the sleeve can be a troublesome trait. I prefer not to allow people to read me like an open book. By the way, why were those men after you?”

    He didn’t answer her, but just gazed stonily ahead, as if in deep concentration. She dismissed his impolite silence with a pleasant smile. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. My name is Annie Man. Those two are my friends, Ruby Lin and Ada Choi.” She pointed to the two sleeping forms on the sofa.

    He was silent for so long that she thought he had once again ignored her. Suddenly the name he uttered made her eyes widened. “Alex Xi Lam.”

    She stared at his brooding profile and felt a chilling anxiety crept down her spine. No wonder his hard chiseled features appeared so familiar. “Alex Xi Lam? CEO of LeXicore Aerial?”


    Annie was amazed she was speaking to one of the most influential and notorious men in Southeast Asia’s business industry. Aside from controlling many of the most profitable sea ports in Asia, there were rumors that he held considerable power in the triad underworld. Over the past decade, she heard he was involved in several criminal investigations ranging from bribery, smuggling narcotics to murder. Yet each time, he had been acquitted of all charges. Whether the rumors were true or false, he was undoubtedly a dangerous figure to say the least.

    He continued to casually sip his warm tea. Even in his injured state, there was a fierce aura surrounding him. “I take it from your reaction that you have heard of my name. Does my reputation frighten you?”

    She hesitated momentarily before responding. “I would be lying if I say it didn’t.”

    “You are quite blunt with your opinions.”

    “Would you rather I hide behind false flatteries? I’m sure you must hear them often enough.”

    The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. It was true that meaningless praises were directed at him almost on a daily basis. “Tell me, Annie, assuming everything you heard about me is true, do you regret saving me now?” His dark, piercing eyes were suddenly focused on her, silently demanding an honest response. How strange that he had so quickly come to value the opinion of this insignificant woman.

    Despite her initial reservation, she stared him straight in the eyes and said, “Whether or not you committed the alleged crimes, I would not have been able to leave you behind. I don’t know you nor do I have full knowledge of the events that occurred in your past. I can’t begin to fathom what it took to rise to the position you have today, but I gather life must have been tough. I don’t know if my action was right or wrong. I just hope that my good deed was not a mistake.”

    It had been a very long time since Alex heard such a genuine answer. He had thought his soul was numbed to all feelings, but Annie was able to make him reminiscent of his unhappy upbringing. She was right. It was not easy growing up constantly fighting for survival. On numerous occasions, he had barely scraped through alive. Friends were hard to come by and trusting someone was even harder to do.

    He was aware of the sympathy directed at him through luminous brown eyes. What a comical notion. He didn’t need her pity. Few men in this world could boast that they had accomplished as much as he did and in such a short period of time. Was he injured so badly that a couple words could so deeply affect him?

    “It would be wise of you to be fearful of me. I have done things you couldn’t even imagine. In the world that I live in, only money and power matter. And I have attained both. So, don’t feel bad for me.” He didn’t know why he was attempting to frighten her away. Perhaps it was to preserve the iron control he held over his emotions.

    At his harsh tone, she lowered her head. Believing that she had offended him in some way, she decided to keep quiet. Both relished the deep silence that followed the conversation. Annie was pondering over the revelation of Alex’s identity while he was concerned with the identity of the hired hitmen. He racked through the possible suspects and came up with a couple top contenders who wanted him dead.

  10. #30
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 29 – Gang Shooting

    Along the narrow dusty road, three black cars with fifteen passengers were speeding toward the white two story villa. The protective steel gate finally came into view. Arriving at their destination, the heavily armed men parked the cars. From the trunk of one car, a young terrified man was dragged out and pushed toward the front of the gate. His hands were bounded and his mouth was stuffed with a piece of cloth. A man in a dark blue suit, apparently the leader in the group, stepped out and approached the cowering figure. The piece of cloth was yanked from his mouth, allowing him to speak.

    “Please have mercy! Don’t kill me!” he dropped to his knees and begged.

    “Tell me the code to shut down the security system and I’ll spare your pathetic life.”

    Perspiration dripped down his face as he answered in a frightened voice, “I don’t know the code.”

    “I see.” He pulled out a gun from his belt and aimed it at the other man’s head. “Tell me before I lose my patience.”

    “No! No! Don’t.” He vigorously shook his head. “I really don’t know.” A shot was fired within inches of hitting his feet. He screamed and covered his head with his arms. “I can’t! I’m as good as dead if they find out I revealed the information.”

    “So you’re not afraid of dying now?” He yanked the smaller, cowering man up by the collar. “I won’t miss the second time I shoot.”

    “It’s… it’s 231970.”

    “Very good.” A sinister smile graced his thin lips. “You’ve proven to be most helpful.” After finishing his sentence, he shot the young man in the head. He fell on the dusty ground as blood started spilling out from the small hole in his temple. His lifeless eyes remained open, staring straight at the sky.

    “Dispose of the body. I don’t want any mess lingering behind.” He spoke to the two men beside him without even sparing a parting glance at corpse. They nodded and started to stuff the dead body in a huge black bag.

    After disabling the security system, the rest of the group opened the gate and strode to the villa. They pulled out their firearms, intent on finishing their assignment. They cautiously entered the house and noticed all the thick curtains were closed and no one was in sight. The man in the blue suit glanced around and saw the tea set on the table. He picked up a cup. It was still warm. “The car is still parked outside. He’s in here somewhere. Spread out and find him. Remember, dead or alive, I want to see the body.”


    Behind the wall in the kitchen was a secret room Alex had led them into when he heard the men outside. There was a latch inside the cabinet door in the bottom corner that once rotated, would open a door to the secluded room. He had it specially made in times of danger and could use it as a hideout from his enemies. Ada, Annie, and Ruby stood huddled together while Alex peeked through a small hole in the wall. He was able to see exactly what went on outside. Countless questions ran across his mind. Who sent them to kill him? Many knew he was returning from his business meeting with Tong Yip, but how could they have known the access code to shutdown the security? He needed time to investigate and get to the bottom of this matter. Someone must have betrayed him. That traitor would rue the day he was born after Alex was through with him.

    Annie failed to realize she was holding her breath until she sensed the tightness in her chest. It was hard to imagine they could be in a worst situation than yesterday. Her heart suddenly constricted with a new sense of fear. To die and never see Kevin again. There were still so many things she wanted to tell him. After all this time, she finally realized how much he meant to her. She must get out.

    Ada was utterly petrified and felt like she was on the brink of fainting again. She was shaking so bad her teeth started rattling. In all fairness, attempting not to panic was quite difficult when a group of men with deadly weapons stood a couple of feet away. Obviously, their motive was not a friendly one. Oh, she did not want to be murdered in the middle of nowhere with her body riddled with bullets! Blood will be everywhere! What a messy way to end a life!

    Ruby was also reflecting on her own bad luck. I hate Shanghai. Ever since arriving here, nothing had gone well for me. Now I’m stuck hiding in a dark, dingy room with little ventilation. I really need a vacation. Lounging on the beach of a warm, tropical island would be awfully nice. Maybe even have a glass of martini. Who am I kidding? I’m more likely going to lounge around in a cemetery if those men find us. This is all Annie’s fault. We could have left yesterday, but nooooooooo, she had to save that guy! It was a foolish idea from the very beginning!

    After an hour of searching and not finding anyone, the men gathered once more in the living room. “Damn!” The leader of the group slammed a fist against the wall, nearly puncturing a hole in it. “He escaped again.”

    “Should we spread out and search the surrounding area?” one guy asked.

    “They could be anywhere by now. No, we have to go back.”

    Seeing them quickly making their way out, the women and Alex were momentarily relieved. Just when they thought the danger was over, the evident sound of gunshots was heard. Alex listened intently to figure out what was happening outside.

    The women were crouched down with their hands covering their heads. They were mostly afraid of being hit by stray bullets. “Shit!” Ruby exclaimed. “We’re in the middle of a gang shooting!”

    “Thanks for stating the obvious. Tell me something I don’t know,” Ada responded in a frantic tone. She had yet to cease trembling as she laid flat on the ground with icy hands wrapped around her neck.

    Alex felt the vibrations on the walls from the shootings outside. Unexpectedly, a man was thrown through a window, shattering the glass as he landed unconscious in the living room. Surprise lit up Alex’s features as he recognized his bodyguard. He turned to Annie with his palm stretched out. “Give me the rest of the bullets.”

    “Why? You’re not actually thinking of going out there, are you?”

    “Yes, I am.”

    “No, you are not! Your wound just barely stopped bleeding. It’s suicide to go out.”

    “Never mind that. My friends are out there. They need my help.”

    “But you can’t—”

    “Stop arguing with me. I think I can manage not to get killed.” He practically growled at her. The menacing voice he used to intimidate most of his men failed to affect her.

    She refused with a mulish shake of her head. “You are in no condition to defend anyone. I didn’t save you from Death’s door so that my efforts will be wasted in a moment of brash thinking.”

    His face showed a flicker of shock. He was not used to having his orders defied by anyone. Before she could utter another syllable, he drew out a small knife hidden under the sole of his shoe. His movement was so fast she didn’t even notice the steel blade until it was held against her throat.

    Ada released a startled scream and covered her eyes. “For God’s sake, just give him what he wants!”

    “See, I told you he was gonna to slit our throats when we least expect it!” Ruby promptly pointed out.

    “I don’t have the bullets. I already threw them away.”

    Her lies were unsuccessful in fooling Alex. He reached into the pocket on the side of her jacket and retrieved the metal cartridges. He slid the knife back in place and started loading his gun. Even with an injury, his movement was extremely swift and precious. He cradled his left arm as he stood up, preparing to leave. “There is a back door to this room that will lead to the woods. When the shootings die down, get out and take the road heading west for a couple miles. There should be a bus station that will take you back to the city.” He left after saying those departing words.


    Sam hid at the rear of a car as he reloaded his pistol. The few men with him were either dead or still fighting back. Of course, they didn’t take the attack lying down. He already took out two opponents already and fully prepared to take on more. Holding up a small cracked mirror, he used it to check out the scene without having to show himself. Within perfect shooting distance from his target, Sam pulled the trigger and hit another man straight in the chest. “One scum down. Plenty more to go.”

    His location was unfortunately noticed by another gunman. A shot was fired at him, but only hit the pistol in his hand. The weapon was sent flying to the ground several feet away. Before he knew it, he was staring straight down the barrel of another gun. The man was muscular in built and his face was completely void of emotions. Sam knew he was seconds away from meeting his demise. He closed his eyes, prepared to not show any sign of fear. A loud bang was heard, but he didn’t feel any pain. He opened his eyes and there was a joyous grin on his face as stared at the figure standing before him. “So, you’re still alive.”

    Alex grinned back. “Of course. I can’t die before you. Come on, let’s clear this place out. I want to get the leader alive and get the info on the bastard that set me up.”

    “I already called for backup. Our men should be arriving soon.”


    “I wonder if he’s alright. He shouldn’t have gone. It’s too dangerous.”

    “I can hardly believe the words coming out of your mouth, Annie Man,” Ruby sounded incredulous as she whispered in the dark room. “Have you completely lost your mind or just temporarily demented? Have you totally forgotten that a knife was centimeters away from slicing your throat open? How can you possibly worry about that man’s welfare now?”

    “He was only trying to scare me into giving him the bullets. He wouldn’t really harm me,” she answered confidently.

    “How the hell do you know?! When did you suddenly become a clairvoyant? You’re doing it again, thinking with your heart and not with your brain. One of these days, you’re going to get killed and not even know why.”

    “You don’t have to use that condescending tone with me. I may not have spent enough time to confirm his character yet, but I sense he’s not malicious by nature. It’s only a harsh image he wants others to see. And for your information, I’m in complete control of my mental stability.”

    “No you are not!”

    “Will you two quit arguing?” Ada finally had enough of the bickering. “If you haven’t already noticed, our lives might end any second now.” Tears started forming in her eyes as she morosely sniffled. All of a sudden, she began to earnestly weep. “I want to go home! I’m too young to die!”

    They immediately scooted over and started to comfort her. Annie patted her on the back. “Don’t worry, Ada. Everything will be alright.”

    Ruby wiped her tears. “Yeah, don’t cry. You look horrible with a streaky face.”

    Ada sniffled some more before calming down. “I’m sorry. I should be tough like you guys, but I’m just really scared.”

    Ruby wrapped her arms around Ada and offered reassuring words. “Hey you’re not the only one. I am too, but we can’t afford to let terror overwhelm us. We need our brains and wits to get out of this mess.”

    “Shhhhhhhh!” Annie motioned for the others to quiet down and placed her ear against the wall. “Do you hear that?” she whispered.

    “Hear what?” Ruby asked.

    Ada dried her eyes before confirming, “Yeah, I don’t hear anything.”

    “Exactly. I think they might have ceased fighting.”

    “Hopefully, they’re all dead.”

    “Ruby! What a dreadful thing to say,” Annie said.

    “What? Those men aren’t exactly saints. God only knows what kind of evil crimes they committed. Society would be better off without them.”

    Ada nodded. “She does have a point.”

    “See, even Ada’s thinking straight this time. And why are we wasting time sitting around chit chatting? Let’s get the hell out of here.”

    The three of them tiptoed to the back and located the door Alex mentioned earlier. Ada slowly opened the door and peeked out. She flinched at the sight that met her eyes.

    Ruby recoiled at the gruesome scene. “Good Lord! They’re hacking away at each other like deranged serial killers.”

    Apparently, the men had ran out of ammunition and resorted to using knives and steel bars. There were dead bodies lying on the blood-splattered ground as the stench of death permeated through the air. The rest of the men were either too injured to stand, unconscious or still fighting. The girls silently waited for them to move their combat further away before making a run for the woods. Annie didn’t see Alex anywhere. She hoped he was alright, but she couldn’t afford to think of anything else except to leave the perimeter alive with her friends. From her peripheral vision, she took note of a large crate several yards away.

    Annie nudged the other two and pointed to the crate. They immediately understood her intention and nodded. After a couple minutes of heart stopping trepidation, they cracked the door wider. At first they crawled out and then sprinted to the crate. Elated that nobody noticed them, Annie peered over the corner. Seeing that everyone was busy exchanging blows, she motioned to the others that it was safe to go. In a blur of movements, they reached the woods and dashed westward.


    Ada was wheezing as she collapsed against a tree trunk. She had never in her life run so fast. Weakly waving her hand, she squeaked out, “Can’t… run… anymore… must… stop....”

    Ruby and Annie were both breathing heavily. They stood for a few minutes to catch their breath. “How much further do we have to go?” Ruby asked.

    Annie shook her head. “Don’t know. But I think we’re getting closer to the bus station.” She warily surveyed the surroundings. “We can’t afford to rest long. Let’s go.”

    Ada made no move to follow. “Can one of you carry me? I can’t feel my legs anymore.”

    “You wish.” Ruby rolled her eyes. “I want someone to carry me too, but that’s not happening. That’s what you get for being so out of shape. I told you to exercise more often.” She and Annie pulled on Ada’s outstretched arms.

    “You can rest all you want when we get back to the city,” Annie said.

    Just when they were about to continue on, the loud rustlings from the large bushes halted them in their tracks. Out stepped two scruffy looking men dressed in tattered jeans and white t-shirts. One of them was slightly taller with a lean, wiry appearance. The other guy had a stout, bulky build. Their eyes assessed the beauty of the three women. One glance at them, and it was obvious they didn’t possess any good intentions.

    “What do we have here?” The skinny one rubbed his grimy hands together in speculation.

    “What would three pretty ladies be doing in this part of town? Do you gals need any assistance?” The stout man asked in a heavy accent. “We would gladly offer our humble service.”

    “No, thank you. We’re doing fine.” Ada timidly responded. They attempted to leave, but the men swiftly moved in front of them.

    “Why rush off so soon? We just met.”

    “Move it bozos,” Ruby snapped. Her hands were perched on her hips as she belligerently scowled at them. “You’re blocking our way.”

    “Such a fiery temper.” The stout man gave a coarse chuckle. “It will take extra time to break this one in.”

    “I bet we’ll get a hefty sum for all three. We’ve really hit the jackpot today.”

    It finally dawned on Annie what they were talking about. “They’re human traffickers!” she exclaimed. Ada gave an astonished yelp as she hid behind Annie and Ruby.

    The men evilly laughed. “Why don’t you save us the trouble and come along quietly. That way, no one gets hurt.”

    The skinny man reached out to grab Ruby’s hand. The moment he touched her, she twisted his hand backward and applied painful pressure to the joint. Her action was unexpected, so he was momentarily placed on the defensive. Much to her dismay, he managed to twist her arm in return. His strength nearly dislocated her arm. She grimaced at the pain that shot through her nerves, but didn’t scream out. She refused to show signs of weakness.

    Annie was quick to jump in and kicked the man in the chest. He released his hold on Ruby and staggered back. “Take your rotten paws off her!”

    The men frowned at the revelation that they knew martial arts. It was an obvious setback in their usual plan of actions. However, they believed it was a sure bet to take the women captive. The trouble would be more than worth it. These women would certainly entertain their long list of clients. They hungrily chased after their newfound preys. It wasn’t long before they caught up to the women. Since Ada was the slowest, the bulky man tackled her down first. Hearing her distressful cries, Annie and Ruby instantly turned back.

    Ruby rushed over and gave a mighty kick to the man’s midsection. “Get away from her you fiend!” Caught by surprise, he was sent rolling to the side. Far from defeat, he drew out a six inch switch knife from his belt and lounged toward the women. Ruby pushed Ada away while at the same time tried to dodge the sharp blade. She ducked as the man slashed right and left. She grabbed his arm and slammed a fist across his cheek, but he retaliated with a punch to her stomach. She took several steps backward and accidentally tripped over a large branch. Disoriented from the fall, she barely twisted away in time to avoid a fatal stab in the chest. Instead, she incurred a cut to the upper left arm.

    Seeing the man once again moving toward Ruby, Ada released a terrified scream before she hurled her body against him. The forceful collision sent the weapon flying out of his hand as their tangled bodies crashed to the ground. “Leave my friend alone!” She yelled while clawing at him with her long sharp nails. He slapped her hard across the face, but she seized his hand and bit down on the flesh. He released a painful howl as he attempted to shove her off. Holding a hand over her bleeding wound, Ruby dashed over and kicked the fallen man in the head, knocking him out.

    Meanwhile, Annie was doing her best fending off the other man. She executed several punches in rapid successions to his face, but despite his heavy frame, he blocked all her moves. In return, he sent her sprawling to the ground with one powerful kick. She swiftly rose up and scuttled away from his grasping hands. Unfortunately, he caught a fistful of her hair and roughly yanked her back. She ended up with her hands tightly locked from behind and a thick arm snaked around her throat. Air was slowly being squeezed out of her windpipe. She desperately kicked a foot over her shoulder. Her boot slammed against his jawbone, emitting a sickening crack. Her tactic worked and she was abruptly released. She stumbled forward, coughing and gulping for air. Sensing him charging at her, she snatched a thick branch near her foot and swung around. She whacked him over the temple and he tumbled to the ground with a severe head wound.

    Ada and Ruby hurried over to check on her. “Are you alright?” Ada worriedly asked. She coughed several more times before nodding her head

    Suddenly, they heard the heavy sounds of approaching footsteps. There seemed to be a large group of men coming. Fearful that there could be more human traffickers, they started to rush off in the direction of the bus station. Before getting far, Annie glanced down at her hand and was alarmed to find her bracelet missing. That man must have pulled it off when she was trapped in his arm-lock.

    “Annie, where are you going?” Ada questioned.

    “I lost my bracelet. I’m going back to get it.”

    “No! It’s not safe!” Ruby’s warning went unheeded. She sighed in distress and shook her head. Leaving without Annie was not an option. She cursed under her breath as she grabbed Ada and followed the trail back. Upon reaching the unconscious men, sure enough, the bracelet was found dangling from the fist of the man that attacked Annie. They struggled to open his clenched fist. No matter how much they yanked, his fingers would not loosen. The rustling of movements in the forest was getting louder. The group of men they heard earlier was getting very near.

    “Leave it. Kevin will buy you another one.” Ruby anxiously peered into the thick trees.

    “They’re coming!” Ada fretfully whispered.

    “You two go on ahead. I’ll catch up later.” She wrenched at his arm, but still couldn’t get the fingers to budge.

    “How can you say such a thing? We’re not leaving you behind,” Ada said.

    Irritation flared up in Ruby’s eyes. “Why do you always have to be so obstinate?!” She stood up and angrily stomped on the man’s arm. “Let go of the bracelet you bastard!”

    His fist finally opened. Annie’s expression was filled with relief. The bracelet was safely back in her possession. The women took off without a second thought. They finally reached the bus stop just as the large vehicle was pulling up.

  11. #31
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 30 – A Bloody Crime

    Annie, Ruby, and Ada safely made it back to the city and just recently returned from a trip to the local clinic. Each had her share of injuries and bruises. The cut on Ruby’s arm required three stitches and since they were no longer in danger, she was whining like a baby. Ada had to help change her dressing.

    “Owwww! That hurts!”

    “Well, quit fidgeting.” Ada finished wrapping the injury with long strips of bandages.

    Annie took an icepack from the freezer and gently placed it next to Ada’s swollen cheek. The slap she received earlier had nearly knocked her teeth out. The pain had somewhat subsided after she took some medication the doctor gave her. On the other hand, Annie’s throat still ached terribly from being held in a choke hold for so long.

    “How are you feeling, Annie?” Ada questioned in concern.

    “Maybe you should lie down and take a rest,” Ruby said.

    “No, I’m fine,” Annie responded in a raspy voice. “I think I better head back to my apartment. It’s getting late.”

    “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here for the night?” Ruby asked.

    “Don’t worry. I’m just tired, that’s all. A couple hours of sleep and I’m fit to fight a tiger.” She put on her coat and grabbed her purse. “I’ll give you guys a call tomorrow.”

    She gave them each a hug and turned to leave. It was already late in the afternoon with the sun glaring brightly across the horizon. She decided to walk for a bit before hailing a cab home. The city was loudly buzzing with activities. The fragrant scents of food being sold on the side of the streets filled her nostrils as she took note of the local people rushing about. She had been so busy the last couple of weeks that she scarcely paid much attention to her surroundings. Her aimless walk lasted longer than she anticipated. Before she could stop and figure out where she was, a smile lit up her face. She was standing in front of Somerset Hotel. Her mind had subconsciously sought out Kevin. She laughed at herself for being so silly. She hesitated on whether she should go inside to see him. What would he think of her if she marched in there right now?

    She stood contemplating a decision when the sound of a car rolling up the curb disrupted her thoughts. To her surprise, Kevin sat behind the wheel. Elated, she made a move to wave to him. Her arm stopped in midair when she noticed another person in the car. She saw him rushed to the passenger side and opened the door. A gorgeous brunette in her early twenties stepped out. She wore a red stylish gown that accentuated her curvaceous body. She moved with a graceful poise that was befitting of a wealthy socialite.

    Annie stood too far away to hear what they were saying. She watched with envious eyes at the endearing way they smiled at each other. The woman leaned in to wrap her arms around Kevin’s neck and tightly hugged him. Annie felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. No, she felt like punching the woman in the stomach. She knew she should leave, but her legs were frozen in place. Her breath was caught in her throat and she wished she was imagining things. He slid his arm around the woman’s waist and turned to kiss her cheek. They soon ended their embrace and headed for the hotel’s entrance.

    Annie quickly hid behind a pillar as they walked pass her. Hearing him whisper warmly into another woman’s ears felt like her gut was slowly twisting apart inside. She could scarcely believe the extent of her misery. She held back her tears. There was no point in crying. It was not going to change reality. And it wasn’t like she had lost something that belonged to her. From the beginning, he was already too far out of her reach. Remembering the beauty and elegance of that woman and how she matched so well with Kevin intensified her grief. Her shoulders sagged with disappointment as she staggered away holding on to shattered illusions.


    “You really have outdone yourself this time, Annie. The decorations are simply divine,” Mrs. Wong said as she studied the sample floral centerpieces and miniature ice sculptures. “I love the idea of having ice sculptures of the bride and groom. How did you possible come up with such unique designs?”

    Annie had on a dazed look and seemingly didn’t hear the question. She was startled out of her thoughts and gave an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

    “Are you feeling alright? You look a little pale.”

    She self-consciously placed a hand to her cheek. “Oh, it’s nothing. I was just wondering if Miss Wong will like these designs.”

    “How could Melissa not? I’ve never seen such distinctive carvings. She would be thrilled.”

    “I hope I haven’t disappointed you so far.”

    “Definitely not. Everything has been going so smoothly. I’m actually surprised. None of the other planners lasted this long and their work wasn’t nearly as organized or impressive as yours.”

    “Thank you, Mrs. Wong.” She was overexcited to hear such praises. She placed a lot of time an effort into planning the wedding and it felt good to be acknowledged. She was quite glad she had her work to keep her mind from straying.

    Mrs. Wong checked her watch again and a frown creased her forehead. “I’m scheduled to have a meeting in half an hour and Melissa is late meeting us again.”

    “I’ll wait here for her. If she is fine with these samples, I’ll proceed with placing the orders.”

    “You are an angel, my dear. You have been so patient with Melissa. I don’t know what I would do without you.” After Mrs. Wong left. Annie returned her attention to the long guest list in front of her. She had to check to see who would be able to make it to the wedding. Melissa had made it quite clear that no matter what, the VIP names on the list must show up, which was practically half the list. Annie sighed and circled some of the names in red ink, indicating that she had some important phone calls to make. Just as her headache was getting worse, loud yelling was heard in the reception area. She was about to get up to see to the commotion, but the door swung open and Melissa came barging in wearing an irate expression. In her hand was a napkin made of the finest silk.

    Annie stood up. “Good afternoon, Miss Wong. What seems to be the trouble?”

    “What seems to be the trouble?” Melissa screeched out. “Look at this.” She threw the napkin down on the table. She impatiently stood with arms crossed over her chest and lips tightly pursed together.

    Annie picked up the napkin and inspected it. It was in perfect condition and still had the lightly scented fragrant of lavender. “This napkin is the one we’ve ordered for the wedding. There’s nothing wrong with it that I can see.”

    “Then you must be blind. What color is it?” Melissa asked with accusation in her tone.


    “Exactly! The color scheme is too light. I want cherry pink for the settings. Does this look like cherry pink to you?”

    “I showed you all the samples for the napkins and that was the one you picked.”

    “Obviously, you made a mistake. Now, fix it. Get a darker color.”

    “I can’t do that. We already placed the order.”

    “I don’t care. Cancel it.”

    “Are you sure this time, Miss Wong?” She was quite skeptical about Melissa’s decision. The teenager often changed her mind on the whim. Already, she had cancelled twice on the designs of the wedding invitations.

    “What is that supposed to mean?” Melissa sounded insulted and narrowed her eyes. “Of course, I’m sure. I know what I want and it’s definitely not this color.”

    “It’s just that the wedding is getting closer and if we keep changing the orders, we might not be able to finish in time.”

    “That’s your problem. Your job is to plan this event. So start planning.”

    Annie remained silent and knew it was best not to argue since she can’t really change anything. From experience, she knew that when Melissa was in one of her fickle moods, no amount of reasoning will get through to her brain. Being raised to get whatever she desired with just a pout or a sniffle, the young girl was uncontrollably spoiled. She took a deep breath to maintain her sanity. She smiled and said, “I’ll arrange for the napkins to be replaced.”

    “There better not be any more problems.” She critically scanned the desk. “What’s all this junk?”

    “These are samples of the floral centerpieces I’ve made. I was also thinking of having ice sculptures of a bride and groom lit with pink florescent lights to brighten up the room.”

    Melissa assessed the objects in her hands and her face contorted in distaste. “I’m paying you to organize the most important day of my life and you’ve been wasting time making cheap looking toys?” She tone was dripping with cynicism. She carelessly tossed the figurines and floral pieces back on the table. The garland rolled off the surface and landed on the ground. “I don’t understand why Mother keeps praising your work so much. Everything you’ve done has been substandard.” She released a troubled sigh. “I guess it can’t be helped that you have such poor style and fashion senses. I’ll consider it a contribution to the economy by granting work to the underprivileged. However, I suggest you start being more efficient with your time.” She flipped her long hair over her shoulder and sauntered to the door. On her way out, she thoughtlessly stepped on the garland.

    Annie had labored many hours to come up with the distinctive designs. It was extremely hurtful to see her creations so callously treated. There was a limit to the amount of derogatory remarks she can endure. She still had her principles and professional integrity to uphold. Success can be obtained in various ways, but she was not going to allow herself to sink so low as to sell her self respect time after time. “Miss Wong, if I may have a couple more minutes of your time?”

    Melissa irritably turned around. “What is it now? Make it quick.”

    “I would just like to let you know that you might want to reschedule your wedding date.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “With your erratic demands, you will only find faults in every single detail. In the end, I suspect everything will be mess and you will search out a scapegoat to blame, which is typical of someone with the obnoxious mindset of an overindulged child.” She could see the flicker of disbelief in Melissa’s eyes. The audacious words had both shocked and angered the other woman. “If you haven’t already figured out, the reason all the other planners quit was because no one could stand your insufferable nature. If it wasn’t for your mother’s kind treatment, I would have knocked you over the head with your own boots.”

    She crouched down and unexpectedly yanked the garland from under Melissa’s foot. The young girl was propelled backward and landed on her skinny rear. Her face was livid with rage as she battled for control. She was visibly shaking as she slowly stood up. “You’re nothing but a penniless, ill-qualified cook. I was doing charity work allowing you to plan my wedding. I’ve known all along you wouldn’t be able to handle such a prestigious affair. You can kiss your job good-bye! Don’t ever expect to work in this town again!”

    Throughout the entire conversation, Annie had kept a calm, almost indifferent poise. She was trying her best to hold on to her dignity. “You can’t fire me because you didn’t hire me in the first place. I will personally resign to your mother. Good day, Miss Wong.”


    “Of course you can stay with us. I can’t believe you even had to ask,” Ada said between sipping her tea.

    “Yeah, we’ll be roommates again. You can bunk with me,” Ruby said with a bright smile.

    They were sitting in quaint little café on the local corner streets. Annie had met up with her friends for lunch and told her unfortunate situation. After accepting the job to plan Melissa Wong’s wedding, she had ended her lease on the office she rented in Hong Kong. Since she was quitting, she won’t be getting any compensation for her airfare and travel expenses. It was best for her to stay in Shanghai and try to find some work. Her friends were more than happy to help her out. “Thank you, guys. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

    “Oh, don’t be so polite. Best buds have to help each other out. Besides, with you living with us, we don’t have to go out to get fast food anymore,” Ada stated cheerfully.

    “That snotty Melissa Wong just doesn’t know what she’s losing. It’s a good thing you quit. Why work for someone who doesn’t appreciate your talents? My advice is to forget about her stupid wedding. I’m sure it’s going to be a flop anyway. ”

    Annie managed a smile at Ruby’s supportive reasoning. Soon after finishing and paying for their meal, Annie saw the handsome face that made her eyes turn watery. She ducked her head and stood up. In her haste, she knocked over a glass of soda that spilled over her lap, drenching her black skirt. Ada and Ruby immediately grabbed the paper napkins on the table and dabbed at the stain.

    Ruby sensed that something was bothering Annie; otherwise, she would not act so jittery. She cast a glance around the café and located the source of the problem. Suppressing her feelings was not a trait she had mastered yet. She had never been one to hide and sneak around. She much rather confront the problem straight on. With a look of deadly determination on her face, she marched over to the couple sitting in the corner of the room. Coming up behind the man, she threw the napkin she was holding at his head. In mid conversation with his attractive date, the man stopped talking and turned around. His initial reaction was to reprimand the person attacking him; however, surprise lit up his features upon recognizing the fuming person.

    “Ruby? What are you doing here?”

    “I can ask the same thing about you, Kevin Cheng! You two-timing dirty cad!”

    Annie and Ada were unaware of Ruby’s intentions and were too slow to stop her. They rushed after her, hoping she would not make a scene.

    “What are you talking about?” He suddenly noticed Annie hastily running toward them. His happy countenance turned to puzzlement as she grabbed Ruby’s arm and tried to pull her away. “Let’s go.” Her posture was very rigid and tense. She didn’t even spare him a glance.

    “Go?! I don’t think so.” Ruby yanked her arm free and pointed a finger at Kevin’s nose. “You pond scum! How can you canoodle with someone else behind Annie’s back in broad daylight like this? To think that I’ve said so many good things about you. You make me sick!”

    He was instantly alarmed at her condemning words. Judging from Ruby’s angry demeanor, Ada’s cold frown, and Annie’s silent treatment, he knew something was terribly wrong. “Hold on for a minute. At least explain to me what I’ve done. What is this all about?”

    Annie would not look at him. He could sense her desire to leave. He reached out for her hand. She moved away and said, “There is nothing to explain.” She started to turn around and head for the door. He blocked her path. “No one is going anywhere until I know why you’re mad at me.”

    Ada’s usual composed disposition was replaced with extreme irritation. From what Annie told them, Kevin was a sneaky playboy and they have all been duped by his charm. Seeing her friend’s hurtful expression was more than she could endure. She wasn’t about to stand by and watch him try to weasel his way into Annie’s good graces again. Ada attempted to push Kevin away, but failed to even budge his tall frame. She pulled Annie aside instead and placed a protective arm around her shoulder. “Stop pretending. You’re nothing but a womanizing Casanova! Haven’t you already done enough damage? Leave Annie alone.”

    “Pretending? Annie, please tell me what’s wrong. Did I do something to upset you?” His features twisted with worry as he anxiously tried to clear things up.

    “Quit playing dumb. We know all about your love affair with this woman!” Ruby heatedly charged as she pointed a finger at the silent lady still sitting at the table. There was a stunned expression on Kevin’s look. “That’s right. Annie saw you two in front of the Somerset Hotel hugging and kissing. How do you explain that?! I knew you were not trustworthy the first time I laid eyes on you.”

    Out of the blue, Kevin softly chuckled in amusement and soon started laughing out loud. He leaned an arm against the table for support as he gasped for air. Believing that he was mocking her, Annie shoved him aside and hurried toward the exit. Before she knew it, the laughter had stopped and she felt a strong arm wrap itself around her waist and pulled her back. She gasped as Kevin held her in a close embrace. She pushed at his shoulders and tried to break free. “Let me go!”

    “Not until you hear my explanation.”

    “I’ve already heard enough. I’m not interested in playing your game anymore. Were you dropped on your head as a baby to find this all amusing?”

    He was smiling at her like there was no tomorrow. He started to drag her resisting body back to the table. She was struggling to free herself and barely heard his spoken words. “Ladies, I’d like to introduce you to Jenny Cheng, my cousin.” Three sets of jaws dropped at the announcement. Annie stood frozen on the spot and stared up at him with disbelief mixed with embarrassment.

    The young woman had yet to cease smiling from the moment Ruby approached them. Apparently, she found the whole misunderstanding quite entertaining. She stood up and stretched out a welcoming hand to Annie. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet the woman that has managed to ensnarl Kevin’s heart. He’s one lucky man.”

    Annie awkwardly mumbled her greeting and returned the handshake. On one side, she was mortified at the turn of events; however, she was thrilled to know that Kevin wasn’t seeing another woman. She was silently beaming with joy.

    From his peripheral vision, Kevin noticed Ruby and Ada were trying to sneak off. “Where do you two think you’re going?” He placed a hand on each of their shoulders and spun them back around.

    “Hehehe. See Ada, haven’t I always told you that Kevin is such a kind and honest man?”

    Ada’s head enthusiastically bobbed up and down. “Definitely. He’s the perfect boyfriend material. Handsome, reliable, and understanding. The best guy around.”

    For someone who was had just minutes earlier been the target of their verbal abuse, he appeared rather pleased with the situation. “Cut it out, you two. I’m not going to hold you accountable for calling me all sorts of vile names.” With an arm still looped tightly around Annie’s waist, he gave a lopsided grin.

    Annie blushed at his obviously show of affection, but made no move to break free of his hold. Jenny gave a discreet cough while Ruby and Ada had knowing looks on their faces. Sensing Annie’s bashfulness, he asked, “You want to go out and get some fresh air.”

    She looked at the friends in case they objected. Ada waved her hands and pushed them toward the door. “We’re fine here. You two lovebirds go.


    Hand in hand, Annie and Kevin strolled down in the large park situated on the outskirt of the city. The frosty wind caused her to snuggle close to his body. This was the first time she had displayed such an intimate gesture. He gazed down at the top of her head and could feel joy spread throughout his entire body. Her presence was a blessing he thought would never come. She was also cherishing their time together. Her surrounding remained the same, except through her eyes, things were much different. The sky was brighter and even the air smelled sweeter.

    Annie turned her head up and focused her eyes on Kevin and saw the crooked turn of his lips. “Why are you smiling like that? Are you still laughing at me for misunderstanding you?” she said with a mock frown.

    His response was to hug her tighter and tucked her head under his chin. “You do have to admit that this whole situation is rather comical. But I’m smiling like this because I can’t remember being so happy.”

    The corner of her mouth lifted as she once again rested her head against his chest. By now, they had stopped walking and were standing under a large tree overlooking a small pond. They stayed under the shady canopy and took in the afternoon sunlight cascading across the water. The glossy surface sparkled as if multitudes of jewels lay underneath. A pair of ducks slowly swam by and paid little heed to the couple staring at them. The birds continued on their way across the pond.

    Kevin wished for nothing more than to freeze time and keep her by his side forever. Unfortunately, the memories Annie had kept buried refused to give her the peace she so craved. This moment together with him was so precious to her, but she needed to let him understand who she was before she could move on with the future. With grave reluctance, she broke away from him.

    With her back turned, she asked, “Kevin, when you look at me, what kind of person do you see?”

    Sensing the seriousness of the question, he approached her and gazed straight into her eyes. He wanted to make sure she understood how important she meant to him. “From our very first meeting, you have managed to capture my attention in a way no other woman has. In you, I found beauty, courage, gentleness, spirit, and an innocence that have bounded my heart and soul. For so many years, I’ve felt the world has lost all appeal. It was like I’ve been seeing everything through a black and white screen. You brought color into my life, Annie.” His hand lifted to tenderly stroke the side of her face. “I could only guess at the pain and trauma you must have gone through. Regardless of what had happened, remember my promise. I will remain behind you the entire way.”

    His words touched her. She truly wanted to believe him, but they are after all just words. Even sacred wedding vows can be revoked. “You shouldn’t utter such bold statements. You might regret them later on. I trust that you’re being honest with me now, but nobody can be certain of the future. From experience, I’ve learned that emotions are often subject to change.” There was such sadness lingering in her voice. “What if I was to tell you the innocent woman standing before you is a murderer with hands that have been drenched with blood? Would you still feel the same way about me?”

    He was more concern than surprise at her revelation. Her anguished, bright eyes pulled at his heart. “What happened, Annie?”

    Her features twisted as she remained quiet for awhile. When she spoke, it sounded low and hoarse. “Fourteen. I was only fourteen when the nightmare started. My parents shouldn’t have died in that plane crash. I begged them to return early from our trip. We were gone for over a month and I missed home and my friends. On the flight, I had the window seat, but I changed my mind and switched with my mother. I shouldn’t have taken her seat. They should be the ones alive today, not me. It was my fault.”

    Those last three words carried the mountainous weight of her guilt. She had placed her parents’ death solely on her shoulders all these years. Kevin throat constricted upon knowing how long she had tortured herself. He knew how hard it must be for her to tell him this story, but he also understood she needed an outlet for her sufferings. No one could remove that burden for her.

    “I was alone and terrified. Then I met him. Nicholas Lee was the most popular boy in high school and also three years my senior. Tall, handsome, athletic, and always knew exactly what to say. He was a lady’s man in everyone’s eyes. I was no exception.” The dark events of the past appeared before her like it was yesterday. She could hear the voice that had haunted her dreams.

    “Are you alright?” a deep voice asked in concern.

    Annie’s eyes lifted as she covered the bump on head with a hand and mumbled. “I’m fine.”

    Wearing a blue school uniform and sitting on the bleachers, she had been completely absorbed in watching Nicholas play soccer. Before she knew it, the ball went flying at her direction and slammed into her head.

    He picked up the ball at her feet. “You’re Annie, right?”

    “You know my name?” She was ecstatic that he was actually talking to her.

    “Of course. You do a lot of fundraising activities at school, right?”

    “Yes.” She gave a brilliant smile. Just like that, their relationship started. Everything was almost dreamlike in the beginning. She was in love, or so she believed it was love. He was her anchor, someone to depend on and take care of her. Alas, her happy time didn’t last long. After Nicholas graduated from high school, he did not attend college. He had the desire to start his own mechanic business. His behaviors and personality slowly started to change. Oftentimes, he would go missing for days and made her sick with worry. Business was not going well and he turned to drinking and gambling.

    “Nick, please stop drinking. It’s not good for you.” She tried to wrestle the bottle away from him.

    Unexpectedly, his hand flew across her face. “What do you know?! Can’t a grown man have a beer once in a while?! Always spoiling my good time. Nick, don’t do this, don’t do that. I’m sick of you constantly nagging at me.” He staggered out of the chair and collapsed on a worn sofa in a drunken state.

    It was the first slap she received from him. The emotional pain was worse than the physical pain. Of course, the apology always came when he sobered up and she would forgive him. Being so young, she didn’t know how to handle the situation except blame herself for angering him. The violence came more frequently after that. She constantly had bruises on her face and body, which she tried to hide with makeup and clothing.

    Finally one day she found herself waking up in the hospital with a broken arm and a battered face. She felt lost, ashamed, and helpless. She thought of her parents and knew if they had been alive, they would be so hurt and disappointed to see their darling daughter in this condition. She wept until no more tears would come out. The days in the hospital gave her the chance to reflect on her short life. She knew that if she continued to be a weak-willed, cowardly little child filled with self pity, she was choosing her own death. She didn’t want to die in such pathetic way. Allowing someone to rob her of her dignity and life would be the most shameful thing she could do to herself.

    She filed a police report and obtained a restraining order on him. She never wanted to see him again. Everything will be okay. She would have a new beginning without him. The police was not able to prevent him from bothering her. He followed her everywhere and even threatened to kill her family and friends if she left him. Her only choice was to hide in a fishing village far in the country. Her efforts failed when he managed to track her down.

    “Annie! Open up! I know you’re in there! You can’t hide forever!” Annie had bolted all the doors and windows. She hid behind the kitchen door with a butcher knife shaking in her hands. She had tried to dial for help, but the phone line was dead. She was terrified for her life. By now, she knew that he was fully capable of killing her in his wild temper. She released a muffled scream when the back door was sent crashing down. Metal bolts and pieces of wood went flying in all directors.

    It was like a scene in a scary murder movie. Nicholas stood where the door used to be and one glimpse at his face sent chills all over her body. His attractive good looks were long gone. In its place was an unshaven man with bloodshot eyes in unkempt clothes reeking of alcohol. He seemed to have aged ten years since she last saw him. His lips curled in a wry grimace. He took a step closer and she took a step backward. He took note of the phone lying on the countertop. “Tried to dial for assistance? No need for that. I already cut all the wires. Nobody will come.”

    She inhaled a shuddering breath. “What do you want from me?”

    “Annie, is that how you greet your loving boyfriend?”

    She couldn’t find an ounce of sincerity in his demeanor. Her knife was aimed directly at him. “You’re not my boyfriend. Our relationship already ended. Now get the hell out of my life.” She wanted to appear tough and in control, instead she sounded like a frightened, cornered animal.

    “Relax, I’m not here to hurt you.”

    “You expect me to believe that?”

    “Why not?” He walked over to the table and poured himself a glass of water. He acted as if he was an invited guest. “Put the knife down. You might injure yourself.”

    She didn’t budge from her position behind the counter. Her hands tightened on the metal hilt. He shrugged and took a seat opposite her. “What do you want?” She repeated the question.

    “I just miss you, that’s all.”

    “That’s a bunch of crap. You and I both know you don’t care for anyone except yourself. You think I wasn’t aware of all the women you slept with while we were dating? I was naïve, not totally clueless. Stop the pretense. What are you really here for?”

    “Must you act so harsh toward me? We were in love once.”

    “That wasn’t love. I was blinded by the devil to have been involved with you.”

    “Well, since you’re dead set on wanting me gone, I have a proposal for you. All I want is $500,000.”

    “You’re crazy! I don’t have that kind of money!”

    “Sure you do. Have you forgotten about your parents’ insurance policy? I haven’t.”

    “So all this time you’ve been after my money? I’m not giving you a penny. You already took enough from me.”

    “I see…” He suddenly lunged over the countertop and tackled the weapon from her. She was too slow in reacting and he twisted her wrists until the knife fell to the floor. He pushed her thrashing body to the ground. She wasn’t going down without a fight. She managed to leave deep scratch marks on his arms and face. She was screaming at the top of her lungs for help. He slapped her across the face which just about knocked her out. It was through sheer willpower that she maintained conscious. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her so hard her teeth rattled.

    “I’m just going to borrow the money. The loan sharks will have my head on a platter if I don’t come up with the cash soon. Can’t you see I have no one else to turn to? You have to help me, Annie.”

    “Alright, I’ll help you,” she gasped out.



    There was a look of relief on his face as he finally smiled. He loosened his hold on her and that was when she made her move. She succeeded in kneeing him the groin with all her might. He howled in pain and instantly released her. She quickly crawled away. She was running for the door, when he caught up to her and yanked a handful of her hair. She received a punch in the face and a kick to the stomach. She was lying curled up on the ground. When she saw him coming at her again, she frantically reached around with her hands for anything to defend herself against him. Her fingers found the knife that she had dropped earlier. As he approached closer to her, she reacted out of instinct and plunged the blade deep into his chest. Realizing what she had done, she yanked the knife back out.

    A soundless scream escaped his mouth. He stared down at the blood rapidly oozing from the gaping hole. With a hand clutched over his chest, he collapsed down. Blood was everywhere, on her hands, her clothes, and spreading on the ground. He lied twitching on the floor with eyes begging for help. “Please…” His fingers reached out to her in desperation. As the thick, crimson fluid slowly drained from his body, it also washed away her grief and fear. A calm, eerie sensation overcame her as she sat there in an immobile trance…

    Annie’s body was shaking and her eyes were filled with unshed tears. “I could have saved him. Find a way to stop the bleeding. Except I didn’t do that. I sat there and watched him gradually bleed to death. And I didn’t regret he died because he could no longer hurt me.”

    Kevin pulled her against his body and buried his face in the tumble of her hair. “It’s over, Annie. It’s over,” he whispered into her ears. She sagged against him and let out a strangled cry. For so long, she had to bear the terrible guilt alone. She relished the warmth and safety he offered.

    He felt the unyielding stiffness in her body. She had yet to cease trembling. “Annie, look at me.”

    She dragged reluctant eyes up to his. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It was self defense. He deserved what he got.” In Kevin’s mind, Nicholas was lucky he was already dead. Otherwise, he would make sure that creep endure ten times the pain he inflicted on Annie. To imagine anyone could treat her in such a way horrified him. He felt like strangling that man with his own bare hands. He would give anything to have been there to protect her. “I don’t care whether it was murder or self defense. I’m just thankful that you survived and it made you the strong woman you are today.”

    A muffled sob escaped her lips as her fingers bit into his arms. He sat there, providing the shelter she desperately needed. She clung to him as she mentally battled her inner demons. “I didn’t know what else to do. I was so scared. I didn’t want to kill him. If only he would just leave me alone.” She closed her eyes against the bloody image her mind could never forget. She whispered, “It was an accident.”

    “I know, sweetheart. I know.” His poor, gentle Annie. The extent of her sufferings was unimaginable. He allowed her the chance to release all the pent up tensions in her mind and body. He sat with her for a long time, stroking her hair and trying to soothe her soft crying.

  12. #32
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 31 – Continuing The Feud

    It was already late in the evening, but Ruby was still busy with work. With a set of earphones on, she was rocking her head and humming to an upbeat tune. She was standing in one of the large production rooms used for storing costumes and equipments. She was comparing some of the sketches with the actual costumes used for the movie. They will be included in the editorials upon completion of the film. So absorbed in her work, she was startled to feel a tap on her shoulder. “Ada! Don’t do that again. You scared me.”

    “Sorry.” Ada stared at the pictures in Ruby’s hands. “Are you almost done reviewing them?”

    “Just three more to go. I still need to scan them.”

    “The costumes will be a real eye-opener for viewers. The designers are bound to win some awards this year.”

    Ruby nodded her head in agreement.

    “Oh yeah, have you call Annie to see if she’ll be having dinner with us tomorrow?”

    “She said she promised to go with Kevin already.” Ruby pouted as she swung her foot at a small piece of paper. “What kind of friend is that? She has her man and she forgets all about us. Such a traitor.”

    “Now that’s an unfair thing to say. She’s been through a lot and Kevin is a good man. They deserve some alone time together. You should be happy for her.”

    “Of course I’m happy for her, but it doesn’t mean I can’t miss her. It’s just that they’ve been seeing an awful lot of each other. Things might be moving too fast for her. And he better treat her well. Otherwise, he’ll have to answer to me.”

    “You just worry too much. Everything will be fine.” Ada optimistically predicted with a wave of her hand. “Besides, you can’t do much better than Kevin. He’s sensitive, caring, protective, and super wealthy. Have you noticed how sweet and romantic he is around Annie? On top of all that, he looks totally hot, especially in a suit. Oh, and the muscles on his arms….. ” She released a dreamy sigh as she propped her chin on one hand. “If only there are more men like him around.”

    Ruby peered over at Ada’s starry-eyed look. “Quit drooling. You’re starting to sound like an obsessed fan.”

    “Well, you can’t deny the fact that he’s one of the most eligible bachelors in Hong Kong. Not to mention that he’s so in love with Annie.”

    “Hey, I never said Kevin is a bad catch and I agree that they make a sweet couple. Yet it remains to be seen whether or not he truly loves her. I’ll be keeping a close watch on him. Anyway, if you ask me, he’s not the best man around. My future husband will be so much better. You just wait and see. He’ll have charm sweating out of his pores.”

    “Really? I’d like to know what your requirements are in a husband.”

    Ruby cleared her throat and said in a modest voice, “I’m not being too picky or anything, but there are a few qualities I have in mind. He doesn’t have to be rich; however, I won’t object if he has some extra spending cash. I don’t expect him to have the appearance of a Greek god, but neither should he be heinously ugly. He doesn’t need to have a genius level IQ, but he can’t be hopelessly stupid either. He must be a man with humility, benevolence, intelligence, and principles. Also important is that he has an amicable disposition. He must never lie to me, yell at me, look at another woman, hurt me, or cheat on me. He has to always think on my behalf, constantly spoil me, listen to what I have to say, at all times treat me with respect, have complete trust in me, comfort me when I’m stressed, and of course defend me when I’m being bullied.”

    Ada was almost at a loss for words. “Gee, you really go into specifics, don’t you?”

    “Hold on, don’t cut me off. I’m not done yet. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, he has to cry with me when I’m sad, laugh with me when I’m happy, and support all my aspirations. He must love me more than he loves himself. He can’t be afraid to openly confess his adoration for me in a crowd of people. Lastly, be willing to jump through hoops of blazing fire just to bring me a slice of watermelon.” She silently went over what she just said in her head and finally gave a satisfied nod. “That should be all for now.”

    “Wow, your list is rather extensive,” Ada spoke with wonderment in her voice. “Does such a man even exist?” she skeptically asked with a raised eyebrow.

    “Of course. He’s out there somewhere waiting for me right this minute.”

    An extremely loud cackling sound erupted behind them. Both women turned around. Tae was holding his stomach and keeling over with laughter. The hilarity of Ruby’s statements caused tears to form in his eyes. He attempted to control his fit of giggles. Unfortunately, his funny bone acted up again so he gave up and just sat down on the ground. Apparently, he had been standing behind them for a while and had overheard their entire conversation.

    Ruby marched over and stood looming above him. Annoyance was etched all over her face as she perched her hands on her hips. “And what, may I ask, do you find so funny?”

    “You… hahaha… you… hehehehe…” He tried, but was incapable of finishing the sentence. He resorted back to heehawing like a donkey on crack. He gave her just enough reason to give him a hard kick to the shin. That momentarily stopped him. “Owwwwww.” He grabbed his leg, but was still snickering. She kicked his other leg. “Hey, stop that; otherwise, I’m going to be mad.” He remained sitting as he rubbed his bruised shins.

    “Tell that to someone who cares. How long have you been eavesdropping on us?”

    “Hmph, I don’t need to eavesdrop. You were practically yelling anyway.” The injuries he sustained from his clash with Brian Keung had mostly faded. With the help of makeup, he appeared to be in tip top shape. He was still considerably ticked off that Ruby had nearly sent him into a coma with her tazer. News of the brawl had spread all over the tabloids. Not only was he severely chastised by Michelle, his mother even called. The phone in his hotel room had been ringing off the hook. Yet the thing that angered him the most was being taken down by a mere woman with an electrical weapon. So absorbed in his fighting, he didn’t even notice her coming from behind. He had a forgiving nature, but she overstepped that boundary. You don’t mess with a man when he’s engaged in a duel. There ought to be a law about it.

    He gazed up at her with a derisive expression. “No wonder you’re still single. With demands like those, what man in his right mind would want to marry you? I pity the fool dim-witted enough to end up with you.”

    She turned beet red at his taunting. She should be used to his callous behaviors by now. Still, his comments were hurtful. Partially embarrassed that he heard her personal conversation, she was more affected by his rude reactions. “Shut up!” she snapped at him. “At least I have standards, unlike some people who are willing to sniff after every female mammal whether two-legged or four-legged. You wouldn’t recognize the qualities of a true gentleman even if they bit you in the ***.”

    He was quick to get on the defensive. Leaping to his feet, he came within inches of her face. Normally, he could shrug off insults thrown his way. As a celebrity, he had devoted fans, but there were also many harsh critics. Unfortunately, Ruby always managed to get the best of his temper. “Oh, so you think I have low standards? Well, let me tell you one thing missy. Women cling to me like bees to honey. My lifestyle may be seedy and corrupted, but I won’t end up old and alone mourning by the fireplace. Sadly, I can’t say the same about you. Scrawny, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed banshee.”

    “Hey! I am not scrawny!” she retorted. “You take that back!”

    He made a face at her and continued in a mocking tone. “Scrawny! Scrawny! Scrawny!”

    With the situation beginning to spin out of control, Ada hastily jumped in to calm both parties. She pulled Ruby back and served as a mediator between them. She simply could not understand why they never get along. Having to constantly be on alert when they came within ten feet of each other was very tiring. “Now, now, guys. Resorting to name calling isn’t going to resolve anything. We’re all adults here. Let’s not squabble over little things and raise our blood pressures. Huh?”

    Ruby shoved her friend aside and stood her ground. She was definitely not going to whimper away from this confrontation. “Listen here you immature prick! Whether I end up old and alone or not is none of your beeswax. Watch your words before I rearrange your face.” She shook her head in disgust. “Urgh! Playboys will forever be playboys. To think I saved your wretched little life.”

    Tae was astounded by her statement. “Saved my life?! You nearly ended it with that tazer! I never asked you to interfere in my business. I was obviously winning until you did a sneaky attack from behind. You’re just lucky I don’t hit women, especially haggard spinsters.”

    “I should thank you then?” Her hand unexpectedly lashed out and connected with his face. “Thank you!” The slap left behind a stinging pain and a stunned expression. This was the second time she had slapped him and he was left speechless.

    Ada gasped out loud as she covered her mouth with both hands. Her eyes grew to the size of saucers and her palms started perspiring. She could feel impending disaster fast approaching. Her role as a peacemaker failed miserably. For a split second, no one moved. The deadly silence gave her goose-bumps as she warily checked on two fuming faces. The instant Tae made a move toward Ruby, Ada shot in front of him. With a preventive hand against his chest, she pleaded, “Tae, don’t be upset. She didn’t mean to hit you. It was an accident.”

    “No, it wasn’t!” Ruby adamantly refuted. She may be a lot of things, but she was definitely not a pushover. “I wanted to hit him. And I’ll do it again too.” Just as she finished the sentence, she smacked his other cheek.

    “My God, Ruby!” Ada screamed. “What are you doing?!”

    Tae’s face was turning red, but not just from the hard slaps. “Ohhhhhh… you are so dead!”

    “Bring it on! Don’t think you can intimidate me because you’re taller and bigger.”

    He had enough. He yanked free of Ada’s hold on his arm and sprang forward. Ruby was ready for him and made the first punch. Her fist collided with air as he ducked to the side and grabbed her small wrist. She swung with her other arm, but he locked it behind her back. With both arms captured, she was still far from being deterred. She kicked his other leg and gained her release. He jumped away just in time to avoid her next punch. In retaliation, he sent out a fierce kick, which she effectively stopped with her hands. Yet the force from the contact sent stinging sensations up her arms. She lashed out aiming for his crotch. He barely caught her foot before damage was done. He gave her a look of outrage.

    “Hey! No hitting below the belt! I still want to have children!”

    “So you can pollute the human race with your decadent genes?!”

    Oh, how she grated on his nerves! With a strong grip on her foot, he twisted her ankle, exerting as much pain as possible. She fought the urge to cry out. Instead, she sent a balled up fist flying against his nose. He yelped in pain as he flipped her leg up. She landed on her back and he was quick to jump on her. She rolled aside in the nick of time. He hastily stood up and lunged toward her, except he bumped into Ada.

    “Ruby, Tae, please stop fighting!”

    Despite Ada’s best efforts to hang on to him, he easily brushed her aside. Before he knew it, a sharp object was sailing toward him. Out of reflex he bent backward and missed being hit. He realized it was a small arrow. “You’re using weapons now?! I could have lost an eye, woman!”

    Ruby tilted her chin in defiance. “I’m sure a black eye-patch would look sexy on you.”

    He gritted his teeth. “Well, two can play at this game.” Next to him was a rack holding a line of spears. He grabbed the closest one. Alarmed, she seized a short dagger hanging on the wall. The weapons dangerously clashed against each other as they shifted back and forth across the room. Each time she swung the dagger, he would dart sideways and return with a new attack. When he jabbed at her with the spear, she promptly dodged left and right. She spun around to slash at him, only to see him dancing away with expert agility. The jarring sounds of metal against metal clattered in the room as the sparring heated up.

    Ada helplessly watched as each wrestled for the upper hand in the never-ending battle. She was witnessing two grown adults settle their differences in the most infantile manner. Even children knew it was wrong to use violence as a form of resolution. Normally, the noisy commotion would alert someone on the production crew; however, most of the people had already gone home for the day. She wanted to seek help, but they were blocking the only doorway out. She ran the risk of being injured if she went too close. After all, weapons don’t have eyes. Perhaps it would be best to stand back and let them finish what they started. They were bound to get tired sooner or later. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

    “Aiya!” Ruby exclaimed as Tae succeeded in knocking the dagger out of her hand. It slid across the ground and landed far out of her reach.

    “Haha! Do you admit defeat now?” he asked in a gloating tone as he pointed the spear at her.

    “In your dreams!” With her dagger gone, she frantically searched for another object to defend herself.

    Seeing that he was holding the advantage, he pushed for a final victory. He advanced toward her with a triumphant glint in his eyes. She waited until he was within two feet of her before she grabbed a heavy book on a table and hurled it at him. He grunted as the thick volume knocked the air out of him and the spear fell to the ground. Catching him offguard, she resorted to throwing everything within her reach. She seized a dozen hair accessories and chucked them with all her might.

    His dodging skill was indeed noteworthy as he made three back-flips while screaming, “Hey! You’re cheating!” Despite his nimble movements, several items smashed into his body. “Owwwww!” He was hopping around like an ant on a hot pan. Alright, he was getting really ticked off now. “I changed my mind. You’re not a scrawny, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed banshee. What I meant to say was that you’re a homely, vile… shit!” A large makeup kit bounced off his shoulder. “Evil witch! Don’t even dream of any decent man willing to live with a squirrel face like yours!” He evaded an onslaught of plastic canon balls. “You might as well write the word ghoul on your forehead!”

    “Tae, don’t aggravate her anymore!” Ada hollered from behind a small dressing table. It was a safe place from all the dangerous actions. “You’re not making the situation any better!”

    Ruby hit the jackpot when she found a metal mace. The spiky club was thrown precariously across the room. Tae’s eyes nearly popped out their sockets when he saw the mace. “Ahhhhhh!” He wasn’t about to stand still and wait for death. He scrambled to his feet within the blink of an eye. Due to the sheer weight of the mace, her aim was slightly off and she missed him.

    “Are you trying to commit murder?!”

    “What if I am? What are you going to do about it?”

    “Watch your words woman.” He wagged a warning finger at her. “I’ve been going easy on you; otherwise, you would have been knocked out already.”

    “Who asked you to go easy on me? Sprouting cocky words when you were ducking for your life just a second ago. Apparently all that martial arts you’ve displayed during filming were just for show. Save your boasting for one of your cronies.”

    It was as if she was pouring oil into the already blazing fire. Till now, he had been mostly on the defense and did not place his full strength into the fight. Her words flared his temper and his foot shot out with unforeseen speed. She barely skirted aside in time and reeled several steps backward. She whirled around and avoided a close strike to her head. However, his fist clipped her shoulder with bruising energy. Momentarily dazed, she failed to see the second punch coming directly at her.

    He was unaware of his own strength and believed that she was capable of dodging. He did not know his attacks came on too strong. The second it registered to him that she wasn’t going to move in time, it was too late to pull back, but he did manage to soften the blow. Unexpectedly, a body was thrown in front of Ruby. Glancing down, he realized he had punched Ada in the back.

    “Ada!” Both Tae and Ruby exclaimed. “Are you alright?” They asked in unison.

    Ruby indignantly turned to Tae. “How dare you hit her!” She raised her hand with the intention of slapping him again, but his body was abruptly pushed away. Her palm connected with Ada’s cheek instead. She yelped in astonishment. Her face twisted with guilt and concern. She worriedly massaged Ada’s cheek. “Why? Why did you have to get in the way again? Have you lost your mind? How’s your back? Where does it hurt? Look, your cheek is all red.” She was close to tears that she had smacked her friend. She should have looked more closely before lashing out so quickly.

    “I’m fine. Really.” Ada attempted to smile. “Please stop fighting guys. I don’t want to see either one of you hurt.”

    Ruby and Tae lowered their heads in shame. Their conducts were rash and immature. In the process, they even injured an innocent bystander. Neither one had the energy to carry on their feud for the moment.

    “I’m sorry,” Ruby quietly apologized.

    “Yeah, me too,” Tae stated dejectedly. “Are you really alright, Ada?”

    Seeing her nod her head, he was able to breathe more easily. Suddenly, a voice interrupted them. “What’s going on in here?” Three pair of eyes turned toward the doorway. The security guard that patrolled the studio stood with a questioning look on his face. The room was in a state of disorder with tables and chairs overturn and equipments scattered over the ground. “What was all the noise I heard, Mr. Leung?”

    “Oh, these ladies were just helping me practice for my action scenes tomorrow.” Tae quickly made up the excuse. “I’ll have someone clean up the mess later.”

    “Well, I’m sorry for interrupting you, but it is getting pretty late and I have to lock up this place.”

    “We were just about to leave,” Ada reassured the man. The security guard waited for them to gather their belongings and locked the door. Once outside, Ruby and Ada started to head toward their car. Still feeling bad for what happened, Tae offered to treat them to dinner. Of course, Ruby wanted to decline, but Ada graciously accepted.


    “Those courses were delicious. Thanks for taking us to such an elegant restaurant. I hope we haven’t troubled you too much.” Although dinner was spent mostly in silence, Ada was glad it went by peacefully. At the very least, no harsh comments were exchanged. The evening had turned out much better than she anticipated.

    “It was no trouble at all.” Tae flashed the dimple that had charmed countless women. “We should do this more often. It’s been a delight dining with two lovely companions.”

    Ruby wanted to gag. She had held her tongue for the duration of the night. She could survive a couple more minutes. Ada was beaming as she once again thanked Tae. She gave Ruby a hard nudge with her elbow. There was a warning look in her eyes.

    “Yeah, the food was alright.” Ruby attempted to be polite.

    “Have a good night, ladies.”

    They watched as he walked away. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Ada asked.

    Ruby could only smile in response. Ada was always looking out for her, yet she was the one constantly creating trouble. She reproached herself for having such a volatile temperament. “Dinner was quite enjoyable.” She looped an arm around Ada’s arm and contritely asked, “How is it that you’re able to put up with someone like me? One of these days, you’ll regret meeting me.”

    Ada sighed. “I already do. Unfortunately, your personality grew on me.”

    They both laughed and continued on their way home. About fifteen minutes later, they heard a boisterous commotion coming from behind. To their surprise, Tae was chasing after a thin, lanky man. Running pass them, Tae screamed out, “Stop! Thief! Give me back my wallet!”

    Hearing this, Ada promptly followed them. Ruby could only roll her eyes and trail after her friend. The pursuit took them down quite a few blocks. By this time, Ada was wheezing and completely out of breath. She leaned against a lamppost and told for Ruby to go on ahead without her. She was going to catch up with them later.

    Being a fast runner, Ruby was not far behind them. She was quite enjoying the chase and curious to know the outcome. After another twenty minutes, the thief was at his wit’s end. Believing that Tae was a tourist and an easy prey, he had been dead wrong. No matter which corner he turned, Tae was right behind him. Neither steep staircases nor narrow alleys could deter his pursuer. They went through a maze of street vendors and squeezed pass a crowd of people. Yet Tae was relentless and followed the man everywhere. Approaching a bridge over a flowing river, the thief had enough and tossed the wallet aside while he ran the other way. The wallet tumbled along the pavement. The contents inside toppled into the flowing current below.

    Rushing over to the railing, Tae watched his most prized possession float precariously on the water. The embroidered handkerchief that Laura had given him was slowly sinking before his eyes. He stared longingly at the piece of cloth. He whisked his head around searching for someone to help him. His face lit up when he saw Ruby. She was trying to catch her breath as she rested on a bench. He hurried over and grabbed her arm. He yanked her up and said in a desperate voice, “Ruby, jump in the river and get the handkerchief for me!”

    With a confused look, she tugged free of his grip and flatly refused. “Are you nuts? The water is freezing.” She glanced over the railing and shivered at the height. “Not to mention it’s like a hundred yards to the bottom. Why don’t you buy another handkerchief? They sell those by the dozen in the stores.”

    His anxiety mounted with each passing second. “Look, it’s really important to me. I’m not a very good swimmer; otherwise, I wouldn’t ask you for help. So are you going to jump in or not?”

    “Absolutely not. If you value it so much, get it yourself.” The notion of plummeting over a bridge into icy water for a piece of fabric was not at all appealing. Perhaps if he had asked more politely, she might have agreed. She was not particularly fond of being ordered around, especially to do such a perilous task. She turned to walk away.

    Left with no other option, he reacted instinctively and hopped over the railing. Hearing a loud splash, she rushed back and realized he had actually listened to her. She was amazed at his stupidity. He was ineptly trying to stay afloat and swim toward the handkerchief. She witnessed his head going under a number of times. After drinking several mouthful of water, he started choking and flailing his arms. However, with great determination, he miraculously managed to grab onto the floating cloth.

    By this time, Ada finally caught up to Ruby. Wondering why so many people were peering into the river, she took a look herself and was alarmed at the scene. “Oh, my God! Is that Tae?! What is he doing in the water?! Ruby, do something!”

    “Well, someone already called for help.”

    “But he’s going to drown. You have to save him.”

    “It’s freezing down there, Ada.” She shook her head and cringed. “I don’t want to go in. Besides, he’s not in such bad shape. I’m sure he’ll be fine until the paramedics arrive.”

    Since Ada did not know how to swim, she could only watch from the sideline. Hopefully, he could hold on a little while longer. When his head disappeared again, she started to panic. “He’s drowning right now! You can’t just stand here and do nothing!”

    Against her will, Ruby reluctantly caved in. She slowly untied her shoelaces and took off her sneakers. She wrinkled her brows and complained, “Ughhh, damn that idiot. Now I have to get wet. I’m probably going to catch pneumonia too. Why do I have the worst luck ever?”

    “Hurry up, Ruby. I don’t think he can wait much longer.”

    She shook off her jacket and gave a silent prayer before leaping over the bridge. She was instantly hit with an intense coldness. The icy water raked over her body, almost causing her muscles to cramp up. She had never experienced such mind numbing sensation before. She held her breath and dove deep. She fought against the currents and hastily swam toward Tae’s sinking body. By now, she was starting to lose feeling in her limbs as she drew his body against her. With several hard kicks, they resurfaced and she tilted his head up. Hearing him cough and gasp for air reassured her that he was alive. They treaded in the flowing river for what seemed like an eternity before the police and paramedics arrived.

    Once they were safely pulled up, Ada hastened over to drape a warm blanket over Ruby. She stood dripping wet and shivering. “This… is the last… time… I’m ever… going… to listen… to you,” she muttered through clenched teeth. “I… feel… like… a frozen… popsicle.”

    Ada hugged her and grinned. “You were very brave. I’m so proud of you. Wait until Annie hears about this. She’ll be so impressed. I’ll fix you some warm tea when we get home.”

    As they walked pass Tae, Ada asked, “How are you feeling?” He was also dripping wet and appeared very pale. However, he seemed oblivious to cold. He continued to hold the green handkerchief in his hand. Gratitude shown in his eyes as he said, “I’m fine. Thanks for saving me, Ruby.” Her response was an incoherent mumble. He couldn’t hear the exact words, but he assumed she was cursing at him again.

  13. #33
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 32 – Falling Ill

    “Bring him in here.” The words were uttered in a low tone, but carried a heavy weight in the dimly lit warehouse.

    Sam nodded and motioned for several men behind him to drag in a man with a black bag over his head. His hands and feet were tied and he appeared to have been beaten quite badly. They dropped him on the hard ground in a careless manner as if he was nothing more than a sack of potatoes. The bag was yanked off his head. He lifted his bloodied and bruised face to stare at the cold, emotionless man sitting on a chair in front of him. The silence made him break out in a sweat. A shiver ran down his spine as he anticipated his fate.

    “Untie him and leave us,” Alex finally spoke up in an icy voice. He never betrayed an ounce of feeling. Once his men were gone, he asked, “Do you know why I wanted to see you alone?”

    “You wanted to spare me the disgrace of having others witness my demise. For that, I am truly grateful.”

    Alex’s expression was still the same. Neither anger nor sympathy was shown. Judging from his demeanor, it could be said he was indifferent to the entire situation. “How long have you worked for me, David?”

    He lowered his head in shame. “In two months it will be seven years.”

    “How have I treated you all these years?”

    The emotion welling up inside him nearly choked him. “You have treated me like a brother. You took me in when I had nowhere else to go. Without you, I would not exist.”

    “Then why did you do it? Why did you betray me?”

    David jerked his head up and pleaded, “You have to believe me. I didn’t want to do it. John held my wife and daughter as hostages. If I didn’t follow his orders, he would kill them. I had no choice. Since you’ve refused to ship his illegal goods, he has held a grudge and wants to eliminate you.”

    The corners of Alex’s mouth curled ever so slightly. “You forgot to mention one thing. He also promised to give you half of my territory in Hong Kong and Thailand.”

    David paled at the statement. “No! I never agreed to his offer. I just wanted to save my family. And he promised me not to kill you.”

    Alex did not appear to be moved by the declaration. Whether he doubted the words or not was unclear. His fingers lightly touched his injured shoulder. He was numbed to the physical pain, but the betrayal from one of his trusted assistants was ten times worse. He had witnessed enough backstabbing activities in the corporate and triad world to last several lifetimes. Unfortunately, he still felt the disappointment in the heart he had trained to harden. He continued in a casual tone, “John may have strong friends in Hong Kong and China, but he failed to consider the consequences if his plan does not succeed. He is already dead. Do you want to join him?”

    Despite having one foot already in the grave, he had to ask, “My family… are they?”

    “They are safe. You don’t have to worry about them.” Alex ruled his operations with an iron fist, but he was also an extremely fair man. David’s family members were not involved in the plot. He would definitely not hold them responsible. He drew out a gun and tossed it to the ground. “You know the rules.”

    “With those words from you, I can truly die in peace.” David picked up the gun and placed the barrel next to this temple. He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. To his shock, nothing happened. He blinked several times in confusion.

    “It’s a good thing you didn’t turn the gun on me. I’ve already taken out the bullets.”


    “Considering the fact that you have loyally served me all these years, I will spare your life.” David should be overjoyed at the news. Instead, lines of worry were etched on his features. He knew his boss very well. Alex Xi Lam was not a man to be trifled with and he never allowed anyone to harm him without retaliating. He had already prepared himself for the worse predicament.

    “However… I have to give an answer to the rest of my men.” His hand pulled out a gun strapped behind him. Within a blink of an eye, two shots were heard followed by a painful scream. Blood spurted out from two gaping holes in David’s knees. Alex had perfect aim. David’s kneecaps were shattered. He would never be able to walk again.

    The door to the warehouse flew open and Sam raced in to check on the situation. He was relieved to find the man writhing on the ground in a pool of blood was not Alex. He turned to the two men behind him. “Get him out of here and clean up this mess.” Before he was pulled out, David managed to gasp out, “Thank you.” Instead of feeling resentment for crippling him, there was a look of gratitude on his face. He could live to see his wife and child again.

    Sam handed Alex his coat and they went outside. There was a shiny black limousine waiting. Sam remained silent, not wanting to cause any disturbance. He had anticipated the events to turn out much worse. After so many years fighting by his side, Sam still could not completely comprehend what went on in Alex’s mind. When something was troubling him, he would remain even more quiet than usual. As if to shut everyone out so he can be in his own world. He never seemed to allow anyone to get too close to him. Even with Sam, he would seldom reveal his true self.

    Stopping at a red light, Alex gazed out the window and there was a sudden shift in his posture. As the car started to move again, he lifted his hand and told the driver to rear back. The vehicle slowly halted in front of a young woman standing next to the curb with two grocery bags in her hands. He rolled down the window and when she saw him, she gasped in shock and nearly dropped her bags. He opened the door and said, “Get in.” He was reading the portfolio in his lap and didn’t even spare the time to glance at her. Hearing such a frosty voice made her extremely nervous. He was followed by another car with men who appeared to be armed. The air vibrated with the danger that usually accompanied him.

    Annie released an anxious giggle before bending down to say, “Hello, Mr. Lam. I’m glad to see you’re not seriously hurt. It appears your injury is better as well.” She was actually relieved to know he was not lying dead somewhere. She had been quite worried leaving him behind and had even contacted the police. Much to her chagrin, they reported no signs of any shootings. “You seem to be going someplace important. I don’t want to encumber your time. I just have a couple more blocks to go.”

    He finally looked up and focused his attention on her. It was enough to make her throat run dry. “I don’t like to repeat myself.” He spoke in a very reserved manner, but she sensed it would not be wise to ignore him. She was not at all comfortable with the idea of following him. If she refused, his men could physically take her away without breaking a sweat. After a short moment of contemplation, she made up her mind and slid into the car.


    They sat in one of the private rooms in a lavish restaurant. His men were standing guard outside the doorway. Annie’s body was completely tensed. She had remained silent during the car ride and failed to speak a single word even after sitting down. She tried to maintain her calm in case something happened. There were a lot of questions running through her mind that she didn’t dare ask. She fidgeted in her chair and peeked up. Realizing that he had been staring intently at her, she blushed and immediately glanced away.

    “Is my face that scary?”

    “Of course not!”

    “So you haven’t lost the ability to speak yet.”

    Somehow, she felt he was jesting with her. She watched him pick up his cup of coffee and sipped it in a leisurely manner. There was nothing threatening in his behavior, yet to completely relax while sitting near him was not something she could effortlessly accomplish. “I just didn’t want to disturb you. Besides, you can’t fault me for my uneasiness. I followed a person I hardly know without any idea where I’m going. Forgive my frankness, but it can be rather dangerous being near you.”

    The frosty brightness in his eyes was diminished by several degrees. She was still the same. She spoke her mind despite fearing him. He was rarely impressed by anyone, particularly a woman. He wasn’t too sure if it was a good or bad thing. He reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a checkbook. After filling out a check, he placed it in front of her.

    The moment she realized what he was giving her, she blinked and rubbed her eyes. Was she hallucinating? She stared at the check for some time. She was not quite sure how to respond. Nobody had ever given her so much money before.

    “Do you find the amount not to your liking?”

    Startled by his question, she hesitated briefly before saying, “You’re a very generous man, Mr. Lam, but what is this for?”

    “I don’t like being indebted to anyone. I’m sure this will provide enough compensation for your help.”

    He was paying her for previously saving him. Why do wealthy people like to solve matters with money? It never dawned on her to accept anything from him. A slight smile graced her lips. “Even if I work for the rest of my life, I might never come up with this sum.” Sliding the check back to him, she said, “However, I can’t take this money. It would be wrong.”

    “Then why did you save me. I don’t believe in saints.”

    “I am hardly a saint. I just don’t want to repeat an old mistake. You see, I had once allowed a man to bleed to death in front of me. I chose not to help him.”

    He studied her profile. Regret and guilt were written all over her face. Under his intense scrutiny, she felt a tremor run through her blood. In his presence, even a rock would shake. He really had a powerful effect on people. “Remorse will get you nowhere in this dog-eat-dog society. You can’t afford to be soft hearted if you want to survive. Nobody will take care of a weak link.”

    “Even though I have my fair share of rough times in the past, I’d still like to view things with a more optimistic mindset. After all, it’s better to see the glass half full than half empty.”

    He appeared to have ignored her again. She took a closer look at him. She had the feeling he must be very lonely. His every move seemed to be planned and he conducted himself in an almost robotic manner. It was difficult to detect any warmth or compassion from him. To become like this, there must be a bitter history behind him. Her heart constricted with a familiar ache. She understood how it felt living with utter despair. Without Uncle Dan, Aunt Nancy and her friends, what would she end up like today? Hence, she had great empathy toward the man sitting across from her.

    “Your perception of human nature is rather bleak. Was that how you grew up? Constantly wary of people?”

    “I’d hate to burse your bubble, but life is a constant battle. No one can be completely trusted. Stand in my way and you’ll be crushed. That is how I achieved everything I have today. Power and money control the world. At the end of the day, being the nice guy will not get you ahead of the game.” He made sure the remark came out harsh and biting. It was as if he was talking down to her while explaining a simple concept. He remained aloof and distant.

    Instead of feeling insulted, she maintained her friendly disposition. “My goals aren’t remarkable like yours and I don’t want to achieve greatness in this world. I just want to one day open my own restaurant. A simple life fits me better.”

    “Then you should accept the money. It will make your wish come true.”

    She shook her head. Her stubborn streak was revealed once again. “You might think I’m very foolish, but I want to accomplish my dream with hard work and determination. I don’t want to take the easy way out of my problems.”

    The corners of his mouth lifted in what could be called a smile. There was a slight trace of humor in his eyes. Few were able to extract such emotions out of him. He stood up and opened his wallet. He took out a gold business card and dropped it on the table. “When you figure out what you want, give me a call.”

    Without waiting for her to respond, he turned around to leave. She watched his retreating back quickly disappear from the room. He came and left with such abruptness. He was a peculiar man, but also one full of mystery. With a soft sigh, she picked up the card. She was awed by the quality of the paper and elegant print. “Gosh … even a business card can look this fancy.”


    Ada frowned after hearing a long string of raspy coughing. She was holding a cup filled with a foul smelling liquid. She held the cup next to Ruby’s mouth only to have it pushed away. “How are you going to get better if you don’t drink your medicine?” she loudly chastised. “You can hardly speak and you’ve been vomiting for hours last night.”

    “Stay away from me! There is no way I’m drinking this goop!” she hoarsely responded.

    “Stop acting so childish and open your mouth!”

    Ruby shut her eyes and pulled the blanket tighter around her body. She was feeling very weak and tired, yet refused to take the medicine. After jumping in the river to save Tae, she had caught a severe cold and had yet to recover. The worst part was her aversion to medicine, especially in liquid form. The smell and taste made her want to gag. No amount of coaxing from Ada was going to change her mind.

    At that moment, the front door opened and Annie walked in carrying her bags of grocery. Standing in the doorway of Ruby’s room, she smiled after seeing Ada’s flustered look. She had already guessed Ruby was still being willful. In her hands was a small package. She pulled a chair next to the bed and opened the package. “Ruby, look what I have for you. It took me the entire morning to find them. These are strawberry coated medicine tablets. I promise they won’t taste bad at all. They’re even chewy like bubble gum and they will make you feel better.”

    Ruby hesitantly took a pink tablet and sniffed it. A strong strawberry scent filled her nostrils. She popped it into her mouth and started chewing. It tasted pretty good. Her throat was less itchy and her sinuses began to clear up. She was also less nauseous. With a smile, she grabbed the bag from Annie’s hands and took out another tablet.”

    “Don’t eat too much. You’re only allowed two every eight hours.”

    “Only you can handle her, Annie.” Ada stared at the clock and finally noticed the time. “I really have to get ready for work now.”

    “Me too. I have an appointment scheduled for a small party.” Through some of her contacts, she was able to successfully set up new orders. It came as a surprise that her catering service was so well received in Shanghai. She was slowly recouping some of her losses from her resignation of Melissa Wong’s wedding.

    Ruby snuggled back down on her pillow and reached for a tissue on the bed stand. She blew her nose before saying, “I’ll be alright. You two go on ahead.”

    “I made some rice porridge and left them in the fridge.” Annie reminded her.

    “And don’t forget to take the rest of your medicine. They’re pills, so don’t tell me you don’t like the smell,” Ada hollered as she and Annie headed out.

    After they left, Ruby started to doze off to sleep. It wasn’t long before she heard the doorbell ringing. She rolled over and pulled the blanket over her head. Try as she might to shut out the annoying sound, the ringing continued. “Go away!” she finally mustered the energy to yell out. Of course the person could not hear her. She was getting a headache from all the noise. Unable to endure the torture any longer, she dragged herself out of bed and draped the blanket around her shoulders. “Who could be sadistic enough to bother a sick person?” she angrily muttered. “Probably a stupid salesman!”

    She cracked open the door and croaked out, “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want it. Now go away.” She shut door and headed back to her room. That person called out to her. “Is this how you treat a guest? I would expect you to have better manners than to slam the door in my face.”

    She groaned after recognizing the voice. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone? Wasn’t it bad enough getting her sick? Must he come to laugh at her when she was at her weakest? She opened the door again and saw Tae’s beaming face. Damn, he looked like he just came out of a photo shoot even in a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. On the other hand, she knew she must be a sight to behold in wrinkle pajamas and worn out slippers. She was as pale as a ghost with dark circles under her eyes and a head full of messy hair.

    “What do you want?” She practically snarled at him.

    “I heard you were sick, so I wanted to check on you.” He held up a large plastic bag and waved it around. “I even brought you something to eat. Are you feeling better?” There was genuine concern in his eyes. She expected him to make a rude comment about her appearance. Hearing decent words coming from him was a definite surprise.

    “Of course I’m not feeling better. Can’t you see I look like I just got mowed down by a train? But you must be disappointed I’m not dead yet.” There was no steam left in her voice and she could scarcely speak above a whisper. She was in a lousy mood, so she took her annoyance out on him.

    “Apparently, being sick hasn’t dampened your sense of negativity one bit. Well, aren’t you going to invite a friend inside?”

    She grumbled incoherently. Nevertheless, she moved forward to snap open the lock for him. She waddled to the couch and slumped down with the blanket wrapped tightly around her. Through drowsy eyes, she saw him taking several cartons out and placing them on the kitchen counter. His actions prompted her curiosity. “What do you have there?”

    “Hot chicken noodle soup, steamed buns, herbal tea, and shredded dry fish. All good for a sick person’s empty stomach.”

    “You cooked all that?” She wondered out loud in amazement.

    He chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t cook. No, you have to thank the restaurant across the street. Just so you know, I don’t bring food to just anybody.”

    “Wow, don’t I feel all special.”

    He paid no heed to her sarcastic remark and proceeded to prepare lunch for her. She heard him bustling around in the kitchen. She was too weary to pay much attention to him and started to nod off. Shortly after, the pleasant aroma invaded her nostrils. She was jolted awake when she heard him call out, “Time to eat.” She opened her eyes to find him grinning widely at her.

    When she didn’t make any move toward the food, he pulled her to a sitting position. The normal lively glitter in her eyes was gone. He missed her chirpy voice and combatant manners. Her impish smiles could wash away any moment of dullness. Now, she resembled more like a fish out of water. She was usually so full of energy that it was hard to imagine her in this condition. He carefully spoon fed her the soup. She had no strength left to argue and continued eating. Finally, she shook her head and pushed the bowl away.

    “Come on, you only had half a cup of soup and a few bite of the fish. You barely ate at all. At least drink the tea.”

    “I don’t have much of an appetite.”

    “Alright. I’ll put these away for now.” He began to clear the dishes. He was treating her with utmost sincerity and care. It was as if he had morphed into a different person.

    She had never seen this side of him before. Did he have an ulterior motive? She couldn’t understand the change in him. “Why are you being so nice?” she suspiciously questioned. “What do you want?”

    He heaved a long sigh and appeared exasperated. “This may be hard to believe, but I am not the horrible monster you make me out to be and I do feel bad that you’re ill.”

    “At least you still have a beating heart. Obviously, I wouldn’t be in this condition had I not risked my neck to save you,” she gruffly reminded him.

    He smiled and nodded his head. He was being extremely agreeable today and wasn’t about to do anything to anger her. “I owe you my utmost appreciation. We might have started out on the wrong foot. I would really like it for us to be friends.”

    His offer of a truce between them certainly caught her offguard. She arched an eyebrow and pondered over the idea. It wouldn’t hurt to be on good terms with a celebrity, especially one holding a contract with her employer. True, he had his faults, but nobody is perfect. He may be an irritating flirt and a temperamental know-it-all most of the time, but she considered a majority of men to be jerks anyway. Tolerating one more wouldn’t be the end of the world. If she could overlook his few shortcomings, the days ahead in Shanghai would be infinitely better.

    “What do you say, buddy?”

    She wrinkled her nose and held up a hand. “Hold off on the cozy term. I’ll think about it.”

    “Actually, you’re gaining a lot of perks by being my friend. You could rub shoulders with the rich and famous, get free admissions to my concerts, and even go backstage with me. Plus, I get loads of expensive free gifts and I’m known to be a very giving person. Just say my name and people will automatically think twice before messing with you. Hang around me and you’ll get priority treatment for sure.”

    His list of benefits failed to make a good impression on her. “You make yourself sound like the prince of a nation.”

    “No, but I come awfully close to one.”

    She attempted to laugh; only it caused her to start coughing again. Her long bouts of painful coughing made her head and chest hurt. He went to get her a glass of water. She emptied the glass and leaned back against a cushion.

    “Feeling better?”

    She nodded her head and muttered, “Yeah, but I’m hungry.”

    “Well, there’s plenty of food left. I can heat it up for you.”

    “I want deep fried shrimp from Green Bamboo Restaurant.”

    He turned around and gave her a dumbfounded stare. Her unexpected request came out of nowhere and he wondered if she was serious. “Should you be eating such an oily dish when you’re in this condition? I don’t think it’s good for you.”

    “I don’t care. I haven’t tasted anything halfway decent in the last couple days. Green Bamboo makes the best deep fried shrimp in the city.”

    One glance at her mulish pout and he knew it was pointless to argue, so he didn’t even try. Perhaps eating a couple shrimps wouldn’t be so bad for her. He’ll just have to ask the chef to use less oil. “It will probably take an hour for me to get back.”

    She finally smiled. “Thank you.”

    He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Women are so much trouble.”


    Tae took the box from the waiter and handed over the cash. He pulled his cap down over his eyes to keep from being recognized. His worst fear was bumping into an overzealous fan. He wasn’t stingy with an autograph or picture, but oftentimes, one fan would lead to two and two would lead to three. Pretty soon, a crowd would form. He gave an inward sigh as he slid a pair of sunglasses on and exited the restaurant. He peeked to his left, then to his right. So far, so good. Taking out his car key, he headed over to his motorcycle.

    Out of the blue, he felt a light tap on his shoulder. From the mirror in a nearby store, he saw a young girl perhaps around fifteen to sixteen years old standing behind him. He guessed that she was one of his fans. “Are you by chance, Tae Leung?” she excitedly asked.

    A spur of the moment thought hit him. He took off his sunglasses and turned around. “What did you say?” he mumbled using a deep tone. The young girl was immediately disappointed. She offered an apology and left. Tae grinned as he uncrossed his eyes and tucked his jaw back in. That was a close call. He mentally applauded himself for being so quick-witted. He jumped on his motorcycle and sped away.

    Returning back to the apartment, he opened the door with the key he got from Ruby. He walked in with the box of shrimp tucked under his arm. “Now don’t blame me for taking so long. That restaurant was so busy. You are lucky I’m in such a good mood today. Guess what happened to me earlier?” He stopped in mid stride upon seeing the sight in the room. The box in his hand fell unnoticed to the ground.

    Ruby was awkwardly sprawled on the floor drenched in perspiration. Her face was flushed and her rapid, shallow breathing was scaring him. “Ruby, what happened?!” He rushed over to her side and placed his palm on her forehead. He jerked his hand back in surprise. “You’re burning up!”

    She couldn’t stop trembling. Her head pounded and swam dizzily. Her entire body ached. She had been fighting hard to stay conscious during the time he was gone. The stabbing chest pain worsened with each breath she took. Her eyes stayed closed, but her mouth was moving. He strained to hear what she was trying to say. “I don’t want to die.”

    That statement sent fear rippling through him. “You’re not going to die! I won’t let that happen!” He gathered her in his arms and headed for the door. He raced down the stairs with her tightly held against his body.

    “Where are you taking me?” She spoke so soft that it was barely audible.

    “To the hospital.”

    “What?” She vehemently shook her head. “No… no hospital. I won’t go there. Put me… down.” She started to squirm in his arms. Being so weak, she barely moved at all. “I don’t want… to be in the hospital. Do you…. hear me? Put me down.”

    Her words started to jumble near the end. He ignored her demand. “You are in no condition to talk. For once, just shut up. I’m in charge now.” He couldn’t take her on his motorcycle. Glancing around, he frantically searched for a taxi. After several minutes, he located one and hurried across the street. From the back seat, he told the driver to take them to the nearest hospital.

    Once on the road, he reached into his pocket and took out a tissue to wipe her clammy skin. She was no longer aware of what was happening. He hugged her close against him. “Hold on, Ruby. We’re almost there.” He fretted as each minute ticked by. She was having such difficulty breathing. He didn’t know what else to do and felt helpless next to her. Suddenly, the car started to slow to a stop. “What’s happening? Why are we stopping?”

    “There appears to be an accident ahead of us. It might take awhile to clear up.”

    Since they were only several blocks from the hospital, he decided to take her there on foot. Taking out several bills, he handed them to the driver. “Keep the change.”

    With Ruby secured on his back, he rushed forward. He had never noticed how small and vulnerable she was until this moment. She often gave him an unbeatable image with her enthusiastic, yet tough persona. He turned his head slightly to check on her. By now her lips had turned a light bluish color and her forehead was beaded with sweat. He could feel the heat from her fever through his cotton shirt. Her head was resting limply on his shoulder as he moved quickly along the pavement. His anxiety worsened with each step he took. It felt like the hospital was miles away. He was out of breath, but did not dare to slow down. How could her condition worsen so quickly? In his mind, he prayed that it wasn’t too late to save her.

  14. #34
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Southern California


    Chapter 33 - Identity Revealed

    Relief spread through Tae’s body as a white building at last came into view. Upon reaching the lobby, he screamed out, “Help! I need help! Please!” Several nurses came forward to take support Ruby onto a stretcher. They pushed her to the emergency room with him following close behind. After being asked a long list of questions from the doctor, he was told to stay in the waiting room. Since Ruby did not have any family members in Shanghai, he could only think of informing Ada. He couldn’t sit still and ended up pacing back and forth in the small room.

    A while later, Ada was seen bursting through the hospital doors with Annie right beside her. They hurried over to Tae in a state of panic. Both women grabbed his arms and bombarded him with questions. “Where is she now? What did the doctor say? Did she wake up yet? Can we see her? How could this happen?” They spoke so fast he was having a hard time understanding them. He motioned for them to calm down first.

    “I don’t know. The doctor is still examining her.”

    Unable to hold back her guilt, Ada promptly broke out in tears. “This is all my fault!” she stated in remorse. “Oh Ruby! I shouldn’t have pressured you to jump in the water. If anything happens to you, how will I ever forgive myself?”

    Annie hugged Ada and attempted to console her. She softly patted her back. “Don’t worry too much, Ada. We haven’t heard from the doctor yet. It might not be as bad as we think.” Despite her attempt to sound positive, she was feeling quite frightened as well. Why was it taking so long? She was becoming more and more agitated.

    The doctor finally walked out to meet them. The solemn look he gave them was not too encouraging. Tae was the first to speak up. “How is she?”

    “Your friend has a rather serious case of pneumonia. You should have brought her in sooner. She had a very high fever, but we managed to lower her temperature. We also gave her some antibiotics. Her condition is stabilized now. It’s fortunate that she’s young and in good health. The infection in her lungs will take at least a week to recover.”

    “How long will she need to remain here?” Annie knew how much Ruby detest hospitals and will most likely object to the idea of being confined to this place.

    “In most cases, patients can be treated at home. I would still like to keep her overnight just to be on the safe side.”

    Hearing the good news, Ada dried her tears and brightened up. “Thank you so much for your help, doctor. Can we go see her now?”

    “Certainly. However, don’t stay too long as she is still very weak. Give her adequate rest in order for a full recovery. Having a relapse can be far more serious than the first attack and can become fatal.”


    Ruby began to stir restlessly and moan in discomfort. With each movement, her pain and awareness increased. Her mouth was so dry she could barely swallow. Her limbs felt strangely dismembered. Why was she so weak and groggy? She raked her brain to remember what had happened before she passed out. Her mind was in a state of confusion and drew a blank. She opened her eyes to focus on three anxious faces. She blinked to clear her vision and saw Tae, Annie, and Ada looming nearby.

    “Where am I? Why does my head hurt so much?”

    They took turn filling her in on the details. Ada fluffed her pillow, Annie went to get her a glass of water, and Tae took her temperature. They made sure she was comfortable and kept asking if she wanted anything. She was not used to all the attention. “Will everyone please sit down? You’re making my eyes crossed moving around so much.” She sounded ever so frail and lacked the usual strength that accompanied her. The weariness in her pale expression was enough to make Ada emotional again. She started sniffling and wiping her eyes.

    “I’m not dead yet. Why are you crying?”

    “I’m sorry, Ruby. It’s just that…. that…” She couldn’t finish the sentence and resorted to weeping again.

    Ruby heaved a tired sigh and lowered her lids. “I’ll be alright. Don’t take this so seriously, Ada. It takes a lot more than a pesky viral infection to kill me…” Her voice trailed off as she fell asleep again. The medication was taking a toll on her body and mind.

    Annie tucked the blanket tighter around Ruby’s body. She no longer had difficulty breathing and her skin was cool to the touch. Everyone sighed in relief to see her better. They decided to let her get some rest and would return later to check on her. Tae followed them out and made sure they were able to find a taxi.


    Ruby was startled awake by a bad dream. Her eyes scanned the small white room and it dawned her on that she was alone in a hospital. She glanced out the window and noticed it was completely dark now. The silver radiance from the crescent moon filtered through the glass. The brightness from the stars twinkled in the far distance as they served to enhance the inky night sky. She felt some of her strength returning and was glad she won’t have to stay around for long. The bed she was lying on felt too morbid. She sat up and slowly walked over to the chair by the window. She drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around them. Her small frame was enveloped by the leather cushion as she stared up at the cloudless sky. The tranquil scene before her rekindled a lot of poignant memories.

    Her mother had died on a hospital bed. She had remained by her side till the very end. The passing years made her death more bearable. Yet she was unable to rid the soft, musical laughter that frequently filled her ears. It was hard to forget the way her eyes shone with kindness and understanding. Her mother resembled a delicate butterfly. Beautiful, but fleeting. Ruby recalled all too clearly how leukemia gradually took away the person she cherished most in life. She witnessed her mother growing thin and pale until she became a shadow of her former self. Her gaunt face revealed signs of intense bodily pain and fatigue, but she never complained. Despite her courage, she was fighting a losing battle.

    “Are you scared?” The question echoed from the distant past. A twelve year old Ruby nodded as her eyes welled up and hot tears streaked down her face. Maggie Lin embraced her daughter and wiped away the tears. “Don’t be scared, sweetheart. Death comes to everyone. It is part of life. And I’m not really leaving you behind. I will always be here.” She placed her hand over Ruby’s heart. Her touch was so warm and comforting.

    Her lips quivered. She shook her head and exclaimed, “I don’t want to lose you, mommy! Please don’t go. I need you.”

    “I wish I could forever stay by your side to protect you,” her voice radiated with tenderness. “Unfortunately, I’m not given that choice. I have already arranged for my sister to be your guardian. She will take good care of you.”

    “I don’t want Aunt Rebecca to take care of me. I only want you.” She tightly hugged her mother’s frail body and cried. Her shoulders shook as she said, “I’ll be a good girl from now on.”

    Maggie’s face twisted with unimaginable anguish. There was little else she could do. She stared at the small body lying next to her and felt a great sense of pride. Ruby was the best thing that ever happened to her. To think there was so little time left for them. She knew her end was drawing near.

    “You have always been a good girl. There is such a strong spirit in you.” Maggie stared at the young face full of vitality and felt a heavy weight in her heart. “I worry what the future will hold for you. It’s not easy to maintain one’s principles and honesty in this society. With your personality, you’re bound to get into trouble. All your emotions can be seen through your eyes. But telling you to mask them will be quite a challenge. No, I want you to hold your head up high and be yourself. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior. It’s so easy to lose sight of oneself in this chaotic world. There are good people, but also bad ones. I have made many mistakes in my life, but there is one that caused me the most heartache. I fell in love with the wrong man. Still, I don’t regret it. Do you know why?”

    Ruby sniffled and shook her head. She knew her mother was referring to her father. He had abandoned them even before she was born. She never met him, but she held no desire to ever lay eyes on him. He was an irresponsible coward and she considered him as good as dead. Every time her mother mentioned him, there was a complex emotion in her voice. She didn’t understand why and never dared to ask.

    “Through him, I was able to have you. When I found out I was pregnant, I was so happy. You have been the joy of my life.” Maggie reached around her neck and unclasped the necklace she wore. Pulling Ruby’s small hand out, she placed the golden locket on her palm. “I don’t have much to give you. This locket may not be priceless in value, but it is still quite a rare antique. There are only two made in this world. If you ever find yourself in need of money, you can sell it.”

    “I will never sell it! How can you say such a thing, mommy?”

    “Alright, keep it to remember me. Remember how much I love you.”

    “I love you too.” Ruby placed her head on her mother’s stomach and wanted time to freeze at that moment. She realized her mother was quickly slipping away. It was unfair how fate was so cruel to her. “When you feel better, let’s go on a vacation.”

    Maggie smiled while smoothing back Ruby’s hair. “I like the sound of that. But to where?”

    “I don’t know. Maybe Japan. You always wanted to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It will be just the two of us. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

    “Yes. It will be a wonderful trip.”

    Her mother was never able to make that trip. Now, Ruby sat staring at the locket hanging securely around her neck. How she wished her mother had not died so young and left her all alone. Why couldn’t life go on as before? Sadness filled her at these thoughts. Tears glistened in her eyes for a few moments before she was able to bring her emotions under control.

    Her soft sighing was interrupted when she felt a jacket draped over her shoulders. With a startled yelp, she whipped her head around. Her eyes focused on the tall, lean frame standing before her. His normally neat hair was tousled like he had just run his fingers through them. His presence was made more prominent by the cascading moonlight. For someone to have such flawless tanned skin and striking features was quite an injustice to the rest of the human population. He was looking way too good that it almost made her jealous. “Why are you still here? I thought the hospital doesn’t allow visitors at night.”

    “Let’s just say I have my ways.” Tae’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “I was worried about you so I decided to stick around for a bit. And shouldn’t you be in bed by now?”

    “I can’t sleep. I don’t like hospitals,” she confessed as she rubbed her cold hands together.

    He noticed that she was finally getting some color back in her face. Her voice was still raspy, but at least she appeared in better shape. When he saw her sitting alone curled up into a tiny ball, she looked like an abandoned puppy. He stared at the dark smudges beneath her eyes and it brought out a protective side of him he didn’t know existed. Unexpectedly, he reached down to scoop her into his arms.

    “Hey! What are you doing?!” she exclaimed in alarm.

    He walked over the bed and gently placed her on the mattress. He pulled the blanket over her. “You’ll catch a chill sitting by the window,” he said with a disapproving frown. “The doctor said that relapses are much worse than the first attacks.”

    “I could have walked to the bed myself. You’re treating me like an invalid.”

    “Can you blame me? You did nearly scare me to death earlier today.”

    She tilted her head to the side and gazed up at him. She responded in a playful tone, “I guess we can call it even now. I saved your life and you saved mine.”

    “I think you’re getting the better end of the deal. I have never in my entire life run several blocks with a woman on my back before. You should seriously think about losing some weight,” he stated jokingly.

    “Thank you ever so much for your assistance today, Mr. Leung. Now, feeling better?”

    He watched the radiant smile play across her lips, making her appear very demure and sweet. Her velvety tone and the softness in her eyes were presenting an entirely different person. She was always open and unpretentious, but who could have guessed there was a charming side to her. When she wasn’t *****ing at him or throwing a fist in his face, she was definitely pleasant to be around. He was hoping she would be like this more often. It would save him a lot of headache. “I’ll feel better if you go to sleep. It’s already way pass midnight.”

    “I’ve slept so much today already.” There was a pensive expression about her. She tapped an index finger on her chin. “How about you tell me a story?”

    “Story?” He scratched his head, baffled by her suggestion. “Gee, I’m not much of a storyteller.”

    “You’re an actor. Don’t tell me of all the movies you’ve made, you can’t remember anything interesting. Just give me the gist of an exciting plot.”

    “That will take all night. I’ll have to elaborate on the details for the story to be good. I’ve got a better idea. How good are you with riddles?”

    Her face broke out into a grin and she sat up with interest. “Now you’re talking. I love riddles.” She tucked her pillows behind her back and wiggled into a comfy position. “Go ahead, I’m ready.”

    “Okay, listen carefully. Two men walked into a bar and each purchased the same drink. Both drinks have poison in them. The first man drank quickly and lived. The second man drank slowly and died from the poison. Why did the first man survive, but the second one died?”

    She pondered the question for several minutes. She nibbled her lips during her deep concentration. After a while, her face lit up as she thought of the possible answer. “I know! The drinks had ice cubes in them and the poison was placed in the ice cubes. The second man drank slowly, so the ice cubes melted and allowed the poison to get into the drink.”

    “Not bad, not bad. And here I was underestimating your IQ.”

    She grinned from ear to ear with satisfaction. His wit and humor definitely lifted her spirit. She was starting to enjoy his company immensely. “Of course, I’m not just all beauty and no brain.”

    He laughed goodheartedly at her self appraisal. The sound was crisp and quite agreeable to the ears. His silly expression made him look like a little boy. “It’s fine to have confidence, but don’t get too cocky. Ready for another one?”

    “Give me your best shot.”

    “This one is bit trickier so pay attention. You are at a fork in the road. One path leads to Heaven while the other leads to Hell. Once you start down a path, you cannot turn back. In front of each path stands a guard. One always speaks the truth and the other always lies. It is impossible for you to distinguish between the two guards. You are allowed to ask one question to either one of them. What do you ask to ascertain the path to Heaven?”

    She was stumped at the difficult question. She offered several answers, all were wrong. She cupped her chin in her hand and mumbled the information over again. At last she threw in the white towel. “I give up. Tell me.”

    “All you have to do is walk up to one of the guard. Ask him what path will the other man indicate as the one leading to Heaven? You take the opposite path because regardless of whom you ask, he will point to the wrong direction.”

    She broke out into a giggle at his solution. “That’s a good one! How about you try to solve one of my riddles?”

    “That is only fair. Don’t go easy on me now.”


    Tom Ng was a robust man with a pair of sharp eyes. Signs of gray were already showing at his temple, which made him appear more distinguished than old. There was a carefree, almost lazy look about him. He hand was drumming on his knee as he lounged in an oversized sofa. His thick bushy eyebrows knitted together as he contemplated over something. He cleared his throat and said, “It won’t be easy to get them.” He stared at the pictures of four jade Buddha figurines. “You’ve set your eyes on some pretty valuable statues.”

    “If this was an easy job, I wouldn’t be willing to pay a small fortune. Bottom line, can you get them for me?”

    “I need time.”

    “Three days.”

    Tom sighed, a bit perturbed by the deadline. “That will have to cost you.”

    “Money is not an issue. I have clients in Hong Kong who are very impatient. Whether my business deals go through or not depend on these statues. Are you sure you can smuggle them out of the museum? I don’t want any traceable evidence lingering behind.”

    “Mr. Cheng, we are professionals here. We’ve never had an unhappy customer before. I guarantee there will be no problems,” he confidently asserted. “It just depends on how soon you can pay.”

    “The money can be wired over within 24 hours.”

    “Great. I like how you work. In the meantime, just sit back and wait for our good news.”

    “I only trust what I see with my own eyes.”

    Tom laughed, it sounded loud and deep. “You are a hard man to please, Kevin Cheng.”

    “I only want the best. I don’t suppose you will disappoint me?”

    “Not when I have such a profitable deal on hand.”

    Kevin’s lips thinned as he finally cracked a smile. “Wonderful. I have high hopes to collaborate more in the future.”

    “The statues will be in your hands within three days.”

    They stood and shook on the deal. Kevin buttoned up his coat and left the VIP room located on the top floor of a ritzy clubhouse. With the first part of his plan set in place, he drove back to the house he recently leased near the countryside. Somerset Hotel was not exactly the most secured place to stay. The two-bedroom house was within close vicinity to the city, but far enough to keep out of the public eye. The place was surrounded by tall trees and the few neighbors he had were at least half a mile away.

    He parked the car in the driveway and noticed a figure in a hooded jacket leaning against the iron gate. He got out and approached the man. “You’re early, Stephan,” he said as he opened the front door.

    “The meeting went well?”

    “Better than I expected.” Kevin tossed his keys on a table and removed his coat.

    “Tom Ng doesn’t suspect anything?” Stephan took a seat on the plush sofa in the corner of the living room.

    “As far as I can tell, no.”

    “To be on the safe side, I’ll put some of my men on him.”

    Kevin frowned at the notion. “You can try, but he’s a sly old fox. Based on personal experience, tracking him can be quite difficult. It’s best to be careful. I don’t want to alert him that we’re on to his activities.”

    “Of course. When did he say the goods can be delivered?”

    “I told him three days. He didn’t object to the short time.”

    Stephan linked his fingers together as he mulled over the news. His forehead creased as he pondered their next move. “We already have enough evidence to book Tom Ng, but the bigger source of headache is catching Marty Liang and Dragon, not to mention shutting down their operations in Southeast Asia.”

    “Since our attempt to hack into their system failed last time, they’re being extra careful now. I just recently found out their new location. We can get around the passcode, but the key is in Marty’s possession. I already have a good idea of how they work. After this deal with the statues, I’ll lure Marty out with a bigger transaction.”

    “He’s been in hiding from authorities for some time now. You think he’ll risk it and see you?”

    “Let’s hope the money involved and prominent dealings can be good enough bait.” Despite Kevin’s confident tone, there was still doubt clouding his eyes. Stephan was right. Knowing Marty’s suspicious nature, things will only get more difficult and dangerous going forward. Whatever it took, he was determined to end Dragon’s crime life once and for all.

    Stephan was about to say something when a slight noise in the kitchen caught his attention. There was a third presence in the house. Their conversation was overheard. This was certainly not good news. Both men instantly came to their feet and stared at door separating the living room from the kitchen. Kevin whipped out a gun that was strapped to his ankle. Stephan already has his in hand, more than ready to shoot the intruder if the need arise. He slid up to the wall on the far left. Kevin approached the door and kicked it open. His gun pointed directly at the person on the other side. Disbelief registered on his face as he whispered, “Annie?”

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