A fog had conveniently descended on the city that Saturday. We met in our usual training area near the Triad building, so nothing looked suspicious. The only thing a little out of the ordinary was that Lin and I were now wearing empty backpacks provided by a couple members of the force. My gun was still in my waistband as always, but Lin was unarmed.
“Do I have to take the Hello Kitty one?” she groaned.
I snatched up the plainer looking backpack. “You do now!”
We knelt down and I went over the plans again.
“Lin and I are going in through the roof. Either one or both of us will come out, providing arms. Be ready.” The members who were there, all twenty-six of them, nodded. “The Wo Shing Wo have occupied our city for half a century. They do whatever they want.” I paused. “I suppose you heard what happened to my mother this week,” I said, and the whole circle got quiet. “They are not merciful people. Today, we must take our city back. I know you can do it.”
A few minutes after we began training, Lin and I slipped away and found ourselves at the front of the nearest apartment building. No one was outside it this time. Everything seemed to be going too well, but I was still prepared for the worst. We looked up at the building, whose color seemed to desaturate as it rose into the fog.
“Ready?” I said.
Lin nodded. We made a final adjustment on our backpacks and headed inside.
The hall had a number of people bustling around it this time. Mostly the elderly who probably wanted to be situated toward the heart of the city. But there were many others who were coming home from work. Lin and I could have been any of them. We blended in perfectly. We walked up the stairs and with each flight, the population of the building grew younger. The apartments weren’t so packed either. There were still one or two rooms without inhabitants, which we could see, usually by their general lack of a door, and the level of decay.
Lin was huffing and puffing by the eighth floor.
“Only four more to go,” I said. “Need a break?”
She nodded and we sat in the empty stairwell. “What are you going to do once the building is cleared out?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Don’t know. It’s not for me to decide. I’m probably just going to give it back to the city.” I shifted my backpack. “I might move in, though,” I confided.
Lin looked surprised. “Oh?”
“Living in Jolie’s old place is strange. It just reminds me how everyone is gone. At least when the Triads are gone, it’ll be a good thing.”
After a minute, Lin stood up and held her hand out to me. “I feel better now,” she said. “Let’s get those bastards.” She was smiling, which is something I had not seen Lin do in a while. I returned the smile and took her hand. We tackled those last few flights with renewed energy, and soon, I was opening the door to the roof.
There was a breeze at the top, and as we looked down, the fog blurred some of the details of the Yamen. But the police force was still there, though faintly. Wai-Lik was at the front of the group leading practice, but he was facing us. I waved in his direction and then watched as he gave two thumbs up to the other members. “Nice job everyone!” he shouted.
He had seen me.
Lin and I got to the edge of the roof and she made the mistake of looking down. “That’s a wide gap and a long fall,” she said.
“Don’t be nervous.”
She stiffened. “I’m not nervous! I’m just stating facts.” She was getting defensive.
“Stating facts that don’t help,” I said. “Here are some facts that do help. You won’t fall down there. All you have to do is run and jump as far as you can and you’ll be fine. It looks far, but that’s because it’s lower. Gravity will take care of that.”
I nodded. We backed away from the ledge. “Ready? On three. One, two, three!” We ran. We jumped. I made out okay, but Lin had a rougher landing. She stood up, wiping gravel from her chin. I went to help her but she didn’t let me get near.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Just then, we heard an unmistakable click of a gun maybe ten feet behind us.
“Don’t move,” said a low voice.
So they had put a guard on the roof ever since I trespassed. Lin and I stood still.
“Give me the bag,” he ordered.
Not wanting to give it up, I took it off slowly. As it slid down my arms, I grabbed hold of one strap. The man got impatient and walked over.
“Open the damn bag!” he yelled.
When he got close enough, I swung the bag in his face. “Run!” I yelled. Lin and I dashed for the vents. The stairwell door was probably open, but we wanted the room that the air duct led to. “I’ll boost you up!” I said, holding my hands out with fingers interlaced. I heard a gunshot behind me and Lin nearly jumped up into the vent. Then I dashed around to the opposite side of the stairwell. I pulled my gun out and turned the corner He was by the vent, his back facing me. I didn’t want him to get closer where Lin was waiting, and where she was most vulnerable. I came up behind him and hit him over the head with my gun. He cried out, and as he turned around, I hit him again. He fell to the ground, and I did it once more for good measure. By then, he had stopped moving.
Lin peeked out of the vent. “Is he,” she asked, “you know.”
“He just passed out,” I said. “Give me a hand?”
She pulled me up and in. Getting into this building was much faster with two people. “Where did you get that?” Lin asked, nodding toward the gun.
“From the Triad member who fell out of my window,” I said simply. We crawled through the vent, whose tunnel got smaller and smaller.
“When does this thing end?”
“Soon,” I whispered. “When it gets hard to breathe.”
Lin got to the grate first. She didn’t have enough room to kick it, but I passed her my gun, and she opened it by hitting it until it popped off. This time the sound wasn’t a hard clatter. The grate had fallen onto some storage boxes.
Lin jumped down afterward and cleared the way for me.
Some of the boxes were locked, but others could be opened fairly easily. Inside were guns of all types and sizes. We had only brought two backpacks, and I was feeling overwhelmed. We wouldn’t be able to take a gun for each of the members.
“Let’s try to keep it simple,” I said.
“But they’ll have the big guns.”
“But we don’t know how to use the big guns, so it’s pointless.”
I showed her how to load them, point, and aim. It was a quick lesson, and not a detailed one since I was bad at doing all three. We loaded as many handguns as we could with their corresponding bullets, and put them in the backpacks. I couldn’t find ammunition for the gun Kwok had, and in fact, I couldn’t find a gun that looked similar to his. So, in addition to the gun in my waistband, I picked up another one that was slightly larger, and which I probably couldn’t hide in my pants without looking suspicious.
Our backpacks now full, the new weight was staggering.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Lin asked. “I won’t be able to run.”
“Can you outrun a bullet, anyway?”
“Last time I was here, there was no one until about halfway down, but even that was still pretty empty,” I said, “I don’t know how many guys there are this time, but my guess is not more than us.” I looked down the sights of my chosen gun. “Plus, we’re not going to try to outrun them. We’re going to try to kill them.”
Lin hoisted her backpack on and winced. “I’m just taking one out,” she said. “I can barely move.” She unzipped her pack and removed the largest of what was in there, and stood up again, sighing and rolling her shoulders. “That’s better.”
“Okay,” I said. “We can’t waste time. I can go with you all the way to the second floor, but you have to take the first floor on your own while I draw them off.”
“I can do it,” she said. She sounded determined. “I wish Kai were here,” she said, as we lined up at the door.
Trust me, you don’t, I thought. I opened the door and entire floor was clear. “Come on.”
We crept down the hall, looking into doors and hiding around corners. This floor was still completely uninhabited, and so, it seemed, were the two floors below it.
By the time we got to the fifth floor, there were two men in an office, but the rest of the hall was empty.
“Are we shooting them?” Lin whispered.
I shook my head. “I’m trying to get you downstairs first. We should try getting past them”
At that moment, one of the men closed the office door. Lin shrugged.
We went quickly down the hall, trying to walk on the pads of our feet so the guns in our bags wouldn’t make noise. When we got to the office door, we ducked and stayed close to the wall so they wouldn’t see movement outside of the frosted window.
When we crawled past, I could hear distinct groans and the sound of small desk items being knocked over. Lin gave me a look. So that’s why they were up here all alone.
We made it to the second floor where there were a number of open offices, and men walking back and forth between them. Lin stood around the corner against the wall.
“What do we do?”
I racked my brain. “Umm, try to find the most important looking one,” I said. We peered around the corner. There was a man in a Lions Club jacket, a few greasy older men with slicked back hair and tank tops.
“Oh, him!” Lin whispered. I looked at where she was pointing.
It was a man, mid-forties, maybe, who was wearing a collared shirt and slacks.
“He just went into that office,” she said, moving her finger as he disappeared.
“We have to hold him hostage.”
“I’ll get him.”
“I’ll be behind you,” I said.
Lin made as if to dash out, but then hesitated. “I can’t.”
“You’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll make sure no one hits you.”
She put one of her guns in the back zipper of the Hello Kitty backpack and exhaled slowly, holding the other one to her chest. “Here I go,” she said.
She dashed out and I followed. Our backs were protected by the end of the hall, so as long as everyone in front of us was dead, we should have no problem.
One of the men saw me. “Hey you!”
I shot a few times because I was a sloppy shot and because I wanted him dead. He fell over in an instant, and other men began coming out of their offices and up the steps. I slipped into the office, following Lin. She looked a little nervous with her gun pointed to the man’s head.
“Come with me!” I shouted.
Lin pulled him up roughly. “Hands over your head!” she ordered. “Don’t say anything.”
I looked out of a crack in the door. A small crowd was gathering, but it couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. “We have a hostage!” I shouted. But a few of them fired anyway. I turned to Lin. “I don’t think they care about him,” I said, starting to get nervous now.
Lin was by the door with the man, who was sweating around his collar. “New plan!” she yelled. She opened the door and pushed him out into the hallway. Immediately, he was shot to bits. We could hear shells hitting the floor, one after the other.
“Fuck, stop shooting!” someone said.
And as we heard them reloading, Lin and I had the same thought. We went into the hallway and shot as many bullets as we could. There were men on the ground. It was surreal seeing them all fall. We ducked behind another corner.
“Find a window, now!” I yelled. “Get out. Bring the others back, and don’t forget me.”
She ran across the hallway and into an adjacent office. A few other men followed her, but she would be making her way out of the building soon.
I turned the corner to shoot at the remaining men, just enough to get them to notice me, and then took off in the opposite direction. She’ll be fine, I reassured myself. The question was whether I would be.