by Tony Noland
A thin cloud of old cigarette ash flew up as Meng-Shiu Tong slapped the newspaper onto his desk. "That fucking little bitch has gone too far this time, Simon. Too far!"
Jolian Simon lowered the sheaf of documents he'd come in to discuss and closed the door behind him. "You mean Lonnigan?"
Tong snatched the paper off his desk and threw it at the old man. "Of course I mean Lonnigan! I specifically told her to put the Acrobat in a coma, and what does she do? She screwed it up. One simple little assignment, and she screwed it up. Look at that, it says he's conscious. Conscious for Chrissakes! I wanted him dead in the first place, I never should have agreed to send in your goddamned prima donna for a simple gun job. Never!"
"She sent a full after action report. The Acrobat is taken care of."
"He's conscious and talking to his family! I wanted him out of action, and he's up kissing his wife!"
Simon shook his head. "The Acrobat is awake, but he's bewildered and terrified. He's not talking to anyone, and he doesn't even recognize his wife," he said. "The spy we planted in the household says the entire family is paralyzed with indecision about what to do."
"I ordered her to put him in a coma, goddamn it."
"Yes, you did. And I seem to recall saying at the time that a coma was no better than dead. If he were just in a coma, instead of shipping him off in a casket, he'd be shipped off to a quiet bed somewhere. Either way he's instantly out of the picture and one of his people would take over. This way, they don't know if he's going to get better or not. That whole organization is out of the picture for the weeks, maybe months for the medical testing, and we'll be able to solidify -"
"Don't you say one more fucking word in defense of her actions, Simon. I have just about had it with both of you."
On the muted television that hung in the place where the bookcases used to be, a smiling woman was excited about the forecast for the next five days. Clear and sunny, although there was a chance for some rain on the weekend.
"If my services are no longer required, Mr. Tong, I -"
"Don't give me that Mr. Tong bullshit, either. You worked for Uncle Quing-Mei until he died, now you work for me until you die, is that clear?"
Simon stooped to pick up the newspaper from the floor.
"You should never threaten. If you're going to kill someone, just do it. A threat is a warning, and you should never give a warning to a target."
"Don't lecture me on how to run my show, Simon. It's exactly that kind of insubordination that I don't need. I don't want to kill you, I just want your little protege to do as she's told."
"Lonnigan is one of the best operatives this organization has. She's smart, experienced, talented, and fully capable of -"
"Her Talent is a joke. It's like the whole rest of the world has guns and knives and she had a sharpened paperclip."
Simon drew a deep breath before speaking. "It's precisely because it's a low-grade Talent that she's so effective. She's completely outside the arms race among the nanotech weaponry, the Talent booster implants and major native Talents. Those kinds of energies are too easy to detect and defend against, but Lonnigan always has the element of surprise. She's a formidable woman."
"She's a woman, and that's the problem. You can't trust women to do what they're told, they always think they know better than you. I say a coma, she doesn't listen, she gets fancy because she thinks she knows better than me."
"I don't think she intends to be insubordinate. She was just... using her best judgment."
"No! That's not what I want! I don't want people to use their fucking best judgment, I want people to do what the fuck they're told! Why can't she understand that? Why can't you, Simon? What, are you part woman, you gotta question every single goddamn thing I say?"
Simon set his reports on top of one of the piles on the desk. "Your uncle found my counsel useful."
"Counsel, yes. Argument and contradiction, no. It's been almost two years, Simon, what's the matter with you? Why can't you get it? Uncle Quing-Mei isn't running things around here. I am. You do what I tell you to do. Is that clear?"
Lips pursed, Simon squinted at the floor for a moment before speaking. "That's a contact from Sung Bo Kim."
"That." he said, indicating the papers he'd brought in. "Kim is one of Vincelli's biggest allies."
"I know who the fuck Sung Bo Kim is."
"Well, he's prepared to bargain. It seems he went to go visit the Acrobat. He found him healthy looking and conscious, but paralyzed from the waist down and unable to speak or think coherently. The fact that the Acrobat kept pissing himself in terror seems to have affected Kim rather profoundly."
Tong picked up the report, glanced at the first page, then threw it back onto the desk.
"Kim wants to make a deal with you." said Simon. "It's not a bad offer, but we can squeeze a lot more out of him than he's put forward. He's very upset."
"Where is she?"
Simon shrugged. "Not back yet. She's driving instead of flying. It's a security measure."
"I want to see her. Tell her to be here, Thursday night. Ten o'clock."
"Here? Your office?"
"Yes, here, goddamn you, now get the fuck out. You tell her, Simon. Tell her to be here at ten o'clock sharp. I want to debrief her personally about her assignment."
The councilor nodded, as if in thought. "Alright, I'll tell her." He turned to leave. When he was at the door, Tong said, "Oh, and you be here too. I think it would be best if you were here for that particular conversation."
As Simon left, before the door closed behind him, Tong picked up the phone.