Just Enough Power - 18

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Shiowshu Chen killed the engine of the Mercedes, and the three men sat in silence. Slatted sunlight lit the periphery of the parking garage, but where they'd parked, it was little more than an element of ther overall concrete gloom. Shiowshu had taken his sunglasses off once they'd made the turn onto the first upward spiralling ramp. Ricky Gao still had his on, even though the tinted windows of the Mercedes had made them unnecessary in the backseat. Simon assumed that he'd left them on for dramatic effect. They were the wide, wraparound style, tinted mirror-blue in shiny black frames. If Ricky's face had been thinner, they probably would have made him look like a killer robot, or something else even more lethal than he was. With those cheeks and that neck, though, Simon thought he looked like the sort of cartoonish pigs one found on birthday greeting cards.

He turned away from Ricky and looked out the window. Concrete, fluorescent lights and some windblown trash in the corners. Nothing of beauty here, and yet... Simon would never admit it to his captors, but these visits to his cardiologist had become immensely important to him. In the first month after he'd helped Lonnigan slip loose from Tong, he'd been confined to his rooms, his meals brought to him. As the weeks passed, however, Tong allowed him more freedom of movement, permitting him to range throughout the mansion during several hours of the day. This was in no way because Tong was feeling any better towards him; it was because he was afraid he looked foolish keeping an old man locked away upstairs. Simon's solitary confinement had become a house arrest. He was escorted and/or monitored wherever he went, but it was still better than being cooped up.

An overture about being allowed to walk the grounds of the estate was summarily refused. His customary daily walks among the manicured gardens, observing the progress of whatever flowers were in bloom, were replaced by walks in the hallways and stairwells, supplemented by hour-long sessions on the treadmill in the gym, where he got to smell the sweat of the hired muscle and try to tune out whatever was blaring from the TV in the corner.

"Let's go," said Shiowshu, "your appointment is at 2:00." He got out of the car and scanned the surroundings again before opening the back door. Simon got out. Ricky slid over and got out after him, bumping into his back. Deliberate or not, it wasn't important enough for Simon to comment on. The three men set off, walking abreast. They passed a dozen or more empty spaces. Shiowshu had parked the car in the center of the level, away from stairwells, ramps and elevators. The first time he'd been brought here for an appointment, Simon had questioned this procedure, then laughed at the scowl he'd gotten for an answer. He was far older than both of them put together; did they really expect him to make a break for it? To try to escape from them on foot?

Yes. That was exactly what they expected, and they were taking steps to prevent it.

Simon laughed again and began a running stream of sardonic commentary about Tong and how badly he must be frightened if he gave such instructions about an old man with a bad heart. Inside, though, he ground his teeth and gave Tong more credit than usual. Of course he might have tried to make a break for it, were circumstances a little different. A bad heart, weak bones and false teeth didn't mean he'd forgotten how to pull a trigger or how to gouge a man's eye with a soda straw held just so. Circumstances being what they were, however, he'd decided against any escape attempts. For now.

"I'll go scout up ahead. You stay with the old man." Shiowshu lengthened his stride and moved ahead, toward the skybridghe that connected the garage with the hospital. He got on a pace or two before Ricky replied, "Hey! Hey, chiung guk kai!"

The younger man stopped and turned. "Don't call me 'Junior', Ricky" he said.

Actually, Simon thought, that Chinese term translated to something more like little-boy-with-shit-in-his-diaper, but Junior was close enough.

"I'll call you whatever I want," Ricky said, waving his hand between them. "I'm the one in charge here, I give the orders. You stay with the old geezer; I'll do the scouting ahead." He put a big hand on Simon's upper arm and shoved. Simon stumbled forward into Shiowshu and went down to one knee. Ricky blew past both of them, with long strides that had him puffing before he'd gone twenty feet away.

With all the dignity of his years, Simon got slowly to his feet and made a production out of straightening his jacket and tie, as thought soothing a wounded pride.

Under his breath, Shiowshu said, "Fucking idiot."

Simon replied, just as quietly, "Well done." Ricky Gao wasn't actually stupid; he never would have risen to any position of responsibiltiy if he had been. However, he was a self-important bully, and lazy besides. This made him as easy to manipulate as if he truly had been saddled with substandard intelligence. In Ricky's wake, the two of them moved toward the skybridge, walking at an old man's pace.

"Have you contacted Lonnigan?"

His face impassive, Simon said, "My intermediates have almost certainly found her and made contact by now. I'm waiting for confirmation." Shiowshu's question wasn't a surprise, so Simon had his answer ready. The young man had been a great help, but that wasn't enough reason to trust him. Not completely, anyway. At first, Simon had tried to give him the impression that he had a network of operatives outside the Tong organization, that he'd set in motion a plan that had been constructed and held in abeyance for just such an occasion as this. However, Shiowshu was sharp, much sharper and more insightful than Simon had anticipated. During one of their private conversations, Shiowshu had made it clear that he knew damned well that Simon had no one on the outside other than Lonnigan, and that the "plan" was an improvisation. What impressed Simon the most, though, was that he'd also made it clear that he wasn't going to press for details, that he was content to wait until Simon was ready to confide fully. Until then, Shiowshu was willing to roll with it, whatever "it" was.

In Simon's long experience, the better the man, the more comfortable he was with uncertainty. Small men with small abilities felt it necessary to be in on every detail, be part of every decision. They liked having everything planned in advance, then went to pieces when the plan fell apart. For all his power and authority, the current head of the Tong organization was such a man. Shiowshu, on the other hand, was a young man with very little power or authority in the eyes of Tong. In his secret dealings with me, though, Simon thought, he did his part, gave me the tools I needed to do mine and then trusted me and himself to stay flexible and get the job done. Shiowshu was young, but he had the makings of a solid leader.

That conversation, which had established the two of them on a better footing, ended when Simon asked him the single most important question, the one he didn't expect to get a truthful answer to. Why was he doing this? Why help an old man whom Shiowshu's boss, the head of the Tong organization, had marked as a traitor and internal enemy?

His answer, when it came, had been phrased very carefully. "Mr. Simon," he'd said, "I think the day will come when it will be to my advantage to have you in my debt." That was all he'd said on the subject, and Simon had never brought it up again. It was enough to reassure Simon about the young man, and enough to work with him in this haphazard covert operation.

But it wasn't enough for Simon to confide in him that he'd put the Department of Justice onto Lonnigan, and thereby, eventually, on a course that would destroy the Tong.

From the skybridge, Ricky Gao called back to tell them both to get moving. His voice echoed through the parking garage, and Shiowshu put a hand under Simon's elbow so he could make a show of hurrying him along.

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1 comment:

  1. I really, really liked the paragraph about the less competent people needing more detailed plans. So very, very true!


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