Just Enough Power - 4
by Tony Noland
Ricky Gao reached over and slapped Simon. The old man grunted and sucked in a hard breath as both lips split wide. Simon knew Ricky hadn't hit him very hard, but he bruised so easily these last few years, couldn't take a punch like in the old days. It took a long time for the burst of flashing lights to settle and fade, longer still before he could see clearly. He looked up at Tong, watched him try to hide his shock at the blood. No, Simon thought, you didn't intend to see this escalate so quickly, did you? Again, you're not in control of a situation of your own making? Idiot.
Simon moaned, let his head loll over. If they thought he was dying they might untie him. The ropes itched.
Ricky said, "Was she worth it? I really want to know. She always seemed like a pretty cold bitch to me, but if she got all wound up for you, she must have a thing for the grandpa look, huh?"
"That's enough, Ricky."
"But Mr. Tong, all I was -"
"Shut your mouth."
Simon wheezed, letting the blood and saliva spray onto his shirt with each exhalation. He didn't have that many cards to play, and since the blood clearly bothered Tong, Simon wasn't going to let it go to waste.
"Why did you warn her, Simon?"
"Does it matter?"
"Where is she?"
"The only thing I'm sure of is that she's not here. Not yet, anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Simon sighed. There was no point in trying to spar with him. He lacked the subtlety to even try to hear what isn't being said. Simon felt a pang of grief that the Organization he'd worked so hard to protect and build was going to be run into the ground by this fool. Thank God he'd be dead soon and wouldn't have to see it all crumble.
"It means," he said, "that Lonnigan is a single-minded young woman and she likes her old Uncle Simon. I'm a thin, gray, spotted old teddy bear, a fond plaything of her youth with which she is loathe to part."
"Don't be a jackass, Simon."
"Don't ask stupid questions, Meng-Shiu. You were planning to kill her, yes?"
Tong maintained a carefully neutral face, but Ricky grinned.
"So, I warned her off. Ideally, I'd have wrapped up my affairs here and also gone into retirement, but life is not always as we would wish it to be, is it?"
"I grabbed the phone from him, Mr. Tong. I could tell he was doing something, but I didn't know what, so I -"
"Shut up, Ricky."
Squinting and jutting out a lower lip was, Simon knew, the Mouse's way of looking calculating. It also covered up a lot of mental wheel spinning when he didn't know what to do. It was pretty late in the day for Tong to realize that he now had no one to advise him, no one who could offer a course of action more subtle than a switchblade.
"What is it with you pre-Plague types?"
"I beg your pardon?" Simon forgot to spit blood, he was so surprised at this non sequitur.
"You. Uncle Qing-Mei. There's no rationality to it. No return on investment. No sense. Lonnigan is the same way, learned it from you, obviously. Why would she come back here just to rescue you? The sensible thing to do is cut her losses and try to disappear. I'll find her, of course, and string her skinny ass up as a trophy, right after I bolt a nanoblock collar on her. She's gonna be a lot of fun for as long as she lasts, but my question to you is, why? Why would she come right back here where she knows I'm waiting for her?"
An alien mind, Simon thought. A cold, wriggling, greedy little alien. Unbelievable.
"When the Silicon Plague hit," Simon said, "your Uncle and I both got lucky, survived without too much in the way of after-effects. With so many dead all up and down the chain, there was a power vacuum; he rose and I rose with him. That struggle taught us the value of loyalty, of trust and respect. When Lonnigan came to us, your Uncle and I both saw potential in her. She took to the instruction we offered. You didn't, as you recall."
"And why should I have listened to you? You sit in your office and push paper around. How would you know what it really takes to command respect in the world?"
"Because I'd already killed twenty-three men before I even met your Uncle, you little shit. When he came over from Beijing he was assigned to me so I could teach him how to be an assassin."
"You killed... wait a minute, you're older than Uncle Qing-Mei? I thought..."
Simon shook his head, wincing at the crick in his neck. Old bones.
"You don't even know the history of your own family, Meng-Shiu, let alone the institutional facts of the Organization. That's why you're such a lousy boss, because you're intellectually lazy."
In a spasm, Tong's Glock was in Simon's face, the barrel two inches from his face, close enough that Simon could smell the metal, traces of leather and gun oil underneath it. The safety was off.
Simon looked up at Tong. "You know," he said, "in all the years I worked for the Jade Prince, as a partner and adviser, we had countless disagreements, many of which led to heated discussions. Only once did he ever pull a gun on me. You can use a gun to end an argument, but that doesn't mean you've won it."
Tong frowned, beads of sweat on his red face as he squinted and puffed his lip. After a full minute, he straightened and put the gun back in its holster on his hip.
"Ricky, take Mr. Simon to the third bedroom on the left."
"Sure, boss." Ricky grabbed Simon under the right arm, jerked him to his feet. Tong's mouth opened as though he were about to say something, then closed again.
Simon stumbled as Ricky forced him along. The ropes dug and cut into the delicate, paper-like skin on his wrists, and he began to bleed underneath them.
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