Previously: A whole lot of stuff happened. And now…
“My mother gave me this. She got it from her mother, who got it from her mother before her,” said the old woman as she fastened the necklace around young Yu Qi’s throat.
“It’s beautiful,” Yu Qi said, admiring herself in the mirror. “That blue stone is so pretty.”
“Your great-great-great-grandfather was from Mongolia,” said the old woman. “That stone is only found there. It’s extremely rare.”
“And valuable?” Yu Qi asked eagerly, spinning around.
“No,” her grandmother said. “I had it appraised. The jeweler said the color was unusual, but otherwise it seemed to be common quartz.”
“But why are you giving it to me now?” asked Yu Qi.
A shadow passed over the grandmother’s face. “I just… There are some things you just don’t want to put off any longer.”
Yu Qi nodded. The massacre in the market had seemed to have left its mark on her grandmother, though no one would tell Yu Qi exactly what had happened. “Thank you, grandmother. I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life.”
Yu Qi left her grandmother’s room and went outside. She admired the way the sunlight sparkled in the blue crystal and almost made it glow. She walked down to the secluded grove where she had been spending more and more time lately. At first, she had been upset that her grandmother had wanted to see her, thinking she would be denied her time at the grove. But now she was happy, with a new necklace and lots of time left in the afternoon before she had to go study.
She was so happy that her feet left the ground almost the moment she stepped behind the firs screening her from the road. She lifted up several inches and twirled in the air, and it almost seemed as if she could hear distant laughter, echoing her happiness.
Jing Guo looked up from his reading when a shadow fell across his comic. A white man stood before him, with two duffel bags, one slung over each shoulder. “What do you want?” Jing Guo asked.
“Excuse me,” the man said in accented Mandarin. He pointed at something over Jing Guo’s left shoulder. “That’s my car. I came to get it.”
Jing Guo turned and looked to see a battered old Tianjin. He turned back to the man. “That car was impounded because it belongs to an enemy of our glorious Czar.”
“Well, seeing as how there is no more Czar, that can hardly be a crime, can it?” asked the man.
Jing Guo did not try too hard to conceal his distaste for the abstract question. Jing Guo had no time to deal in abstracts. “Do you have papers releasing it from impound?”
“No,” the man said.
Jing Guo sucked air in through his teeth. “Without papers, it will be difficult.”
[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”right”]“They’re smart girls,” Digger said. “I’m sure they found ways to spend the time.”[/blockquote]He resumed his reading. Stupid foreigners and their stupid assumptions that you would just jump to do whatever they wanted. The man would probably offer a bribe next, which Jing Guo would of course accept, but it would make him respect the man even less.
But there was no offer of a bribe. Instead, the man’s shadow grew larger somehow, and when Jing Guo looked up to tell the man to stop blocking his light, the words died unspoken in his throat. He offered the return of the car instead, without objection, papers or no papers.
Some men, you didn’t say no to.
Digger attracted stares in the lobby of the hotel in Shanghai, but no one challenged him. The trip from Mongolia had been mostly uneventful after a hairy bit getting across the border into China. News of the Czar’s disappearance had spread, and the Chinese government had apparently stopped worrying so much about Cole and Digger to concentrate on the power vacuum that had just opened up to their north.
“You think the girls had any trouble after we left?” Digger asked as they rode the elevator to the sixth floor.
“I wouldn’t think so,” Cole said. “I mean, they ditched the disguises right after they left us, right?”
“Yeah, but still…” Digger said as the elevator stopped and the doors dinged open. He continued the thought as they walked down the hall. “Two heroes from America start an international incident, and not an hour later, two American women check into a hotel in the same city? Had to set off some alarm bells.”
“They’re smart girls,” Cole said. “I’m sure they figured something out. I’m more worried that they were bored out of their skulls. Even shoe shopping gets old after a while.”
“They’re smart girls,” Digger said. “I’m sure they found ways to spend the time.”
Cole stopped in front of room 696 and knocked on the door. They heard shuffling and banging, and a shadow passed across the peep hole. There was another pause during which Digger heard a brief whispered conversation, and then Amanda opened the door a crack.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m going to need you to come in quick, okay?”
“Okay,” Cole said.
Amanda threw the door open and said, “Hurry, hurry. Don’t let it out.”
Cole and Digger rushed through the door as a furious racket ensued. Amanda slammed the door behind them, and Digger saw a large blue parrot flapping around the large main room of the suite, squawking wildly. Feathers drifted down onto a Chinese man dressed in an undershirt, boxers, and black socks with garters. He was strapped to a chair with duct tape and looked at them with terrified eyes, though he couldn’t say anything around the gag. A blowtorch sat on a small table next to him, beside a velvet bag from which spilled sparkling stones that looked to Digger like sapphires. Someone had drawn crude maps of a building on the window in marker. Off in one corner was a pile of cardboard boxes. One was open to reveal rubber balls in the shape of cute monster heads.
“Excuse the mess,” Amanda said as she pushed past them to clear a thick layer of Chinese newspapers and what looked like blueprints off the couch. Amanda was dressed in an outfit of skintight black latex with spike-heeled boots. Her blonde hair was tied back in a cute ponytail, and she wore a white wristwatch trimmed with white fur.
The parrot settled on the back of an expensive wingback chair that was liberally dotted with splotches that showed it to have been the parrot’s perch for some time.
Tiffany walked out of one of the bedrooms counting a thick stack of money. She wore an ornate dress that looked like a cross between something Scarlett O’Hara would have worn at Tara and vampire fetish garb, deep red and covered with lace. A gas mask dangled by its straps from her wrist. She looked up, saw Digger and Cole, and shook her head. “Well, it’s about damn time.”
Thanks for reading.
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