“I’m still not giving you a gun,” Wong said.
Lee blew on his cold hands. “I didn’t ask for one.”
“I can hear the thought in your head.”
“Hey, we’re just seeing who shows up tonight. No need for shooting, right?”
Wong grunted sullenly.
Recruiting Wong had been simple enough. Lee simply waited outside his tiny apartment until Wong came home. A heated discussion followed indoors, but both men knew of Tang’s reputation. It was technically a matter for Special Branch, but by the time they were done arguing it was too late to contact Special Branch.
Besides, it was a surveillance job, plain and simple. They could do it just as well as the spycatchers.
They stayed in the dark inside Wong’s cramped car for the next two hours, unblinking and unmoving in the shadows, shifting only to duck under headlights of the occasional passing car.
At three minutes to four a dark saloon car circled around the block once, then parked opposite the club. Two men jumped out and headed to the door. The one in the lead rapped the door twice, then twice more. The door opened and both entered.
“They look Japanese to you?” Wong whispered.
“Can’t tell. It’s too dark,” Lee replied.
“We need to get the license plate number.”
“I’ll go. You keep an eye out.”
Lee scanned the shadow-shrouded streets and, satisfied there were no watchers, exited the car. Sauntering up to the Fiat, he slipped out his matchbook and struck a match, cupping the naked flame with his other hand.
And swore softly to himself.
Japanese diplomatic plates.
He read the numbers thrice, burning them into his brain. Extinguishing the match, he dropped the stub into a pocket and turned around.
Right into the muzzle of a gun.
“Hands up,” the gunman said in Japanese-accented Chinese.
Lee complied, leaning ever so slightly forward, taking a very small step towards the man.
“Who are you?” the Japanese asked.
Lee flicked his eyes from left to right. Behind the gunman was a deeper shadow near the car.
“Nobody, Lee said. “I just –”
BANG! BANG BANG BANG!
Glass shattered. The Japanese startled. Lee leapt in, circling his left arm to lock up the gun arm in his armpit, and blasted his right palm up into the man’s face. The blow almost bowled the man over. The Japanese jerked convulsively. The gun fired. Lee slammed another palm into the gunman’s face and simultaneously kneed him in the groin.
The Japanese fell over, slamming into the bonnet of a nearby car. Lee clenched his fist and hammered the man’s chest. The Japanese replied with a hard knife-hand block, just enough power to swipe his arm out of the way. The gunman flowed into a punch, just as Lee stomped hard on the man’s exposed foot. The punch, powered only by the shoulder, bounced off Lee’s forehead. The stomp crunched something. The Japanese screamed, sliding down the car. Lee grabbed the man’s skull and pounded it against the bonnet and bumper.
The Japanese went still. Lee stepped aside, stripped the gun and aimed it at the former threat. The Japanese remained still. Lee looked around and heard footsteps pounding up to him.
“Lee!” Wong shouted. “Are you okay?”
Lee looked over his shoulder and patted himself down.
“I’m good. What the hell happened?” Lee demanded.
“Bodyguards. Two of them. They were parked down the street behind us. When you went up to read the plate they came up to the car. One talked to me while the other went to you.”
“You shot your guy?”
He held up his smoking handgun, reloading with a fresh magazine. “Yeah. He won’t be a problem now. We need to go in and arrest the suspects before they can escape.”
“You get the front door. I’ll go around the back.”
Lee scurried down a nearby alley, which wrapped around to the rear of the club. Along the way he inspected the unfamiliar gun in his hand. It was a Japanese Nambu, a long, exposed snout of a barrel, a trigger, a handle and that was all he recognised. Lee remembered the weapon had an eight-round magazine, and since it fired earlier the safety was probably off. He wished for the Colt 1908 he’d trained on, but this was the gun he had.
Down the alley, he turned left, and in the pale moonlight saw four people scurry out the back of the club.
“Police! Stop!” Lee yelled.
“RUN!” a man shouted.
Two of them peeled away and raised gleaming objects in their hands. Lee ducked back just as a volley of shots rang out. The shooters were panicking, burning through their magazines as fast as they could fire. Lee flinched as clouds of brick dust peppered his face. When the shooting stopped he popped back out.
The two shooters were running down the alley, hurrying for cover. Lee pointed the Nambu at the nearer one’s centre of mass and pressed the trigger.
The muzzle blast stole his sight and flooded his ears. Wincing, Lee pointed at the other one but saw only a purple splotch. He fired anyway, and the brief sun illuminated two men still on their feet. He blasted away, burning through half his magazine, before the men decided to drop.
“Run!” a woman shouted. “They’re coming! RUN!”
Two figures popped out of a nearby doorway, rushing for the mouth of the alley. One was smaller and slower, high heels clicking against the road. Lee sprinted in pursuit. As the leading figure turned a corner, the woman tripped, falling heavily to the road.
She cursed loudly in Japanese. A man replied in the same language. Lee readied his Nambu and turned the corner, coming face-to-face with the man.
“STOP! DON’T MOVE!” Lee yelled in Mandarin.
“Damn you!” the man cursed, in Shanghainese.
The figure leapt at Lee. Lee fired. The body slammed into him. The attacker screamed like a wildcat, flailing and clawing. Scrabbling with fingers and feet, Lee found the man’s shoulder and foot. Seizing it, he pulled the man down and swept out his leg, driving him into the sidewalk. Lee stomped the man in the head, and he went still.
Lee turned his attention to the woman. She was picking herself up, backing away from him.
“Ms. Ouyang?” Lee wheezed. He held his pistol low by his hip, unwilling to let her see his trembling arm. How many shots had he fired? Six? Seven? Was his gun empty?
“Mr. Lee,” she replied. She stood to her full height, bringing her handbag in front of her.
“Those men in the alleyway were Japanese.”
She stared at him in the eye. “Yes.”
Lee jerked his head at the man he’d thrown.
“That guy’s a collaborator?”
“He was my lover.”
Lee shrugged. Who knew what was in a woman’s heart? “Answer the question. Was he a collaborator?”
“Your handler? Your local contact?”
She shrugged sullenly. “He was more than that…but yes. He was.”
“So, the rumours of you working with the Japanese are true.”
“Yes. What are you going to do about it?”
She clutched her handbag protectively.
“I’m just trying to learn the truth. You sent me to Tang to die, didn’t you? I mean, what kind of idiot in this city would just walk up to a triad and demand answers?”
“How did you survive?” She chuckled, shook his head. “How did he survive?”
“He gave me a way to find the truth. Too bad nobody told you about our history.”
She sighed, cursing. “I forgot. You had a reputation for fairness. Even towards the triads.” She shrugged and added, “What’s next? Are you’re going to hand me to Special Branch?”
Lee shrugged too. “Tell me, why did you collaborate with the Japanese?”
“I didn’t. I am Japanese.”
Lee blinked. “What?”
“I was born on the streets of Tsingtao. During the Great War, when the Japanese defeated the Germans, a Japanese soldier found me and brought me home to Tokyo. He raised me as his own daughter. The Genyosha recruited me at eighteen and sent me here, to Shanghai.”
“To make friends and influence people?”
“You would betray your homeland? Betray your people?”
Her voice turned cold and flinty. “I am Japanese. And, there are more Japanese in Shanghai than any other foreign power. In a few more years, Shanghai might as well be Japanese too. I’m just speeding things along.”
“Lee!” Wong shouted, well behind him.
“I’m here!” Lee yelled back, keeping his gun on her.
Wong ran up, halting next to Lee.
“Caged the Songbird, eh, Lee?” Wong remarked.
“I guess I can’t persuade you to let me go,” Ouyang said. “I know your type too well.”
“If you come in quietly,” Wong said, “we can work out a deal.”
She sighed. “Well, boys, you caught me.”
“Put the bag down,” Wong said.
Crouching, she slowly placed the bag on the ground. Lee blinked hard, trying to peer through the spots dancing in his vision, but did her hand just reach inside…?
Lee extended his pistol. “Drop the bag!”
She dropped the bag.
For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check our my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.