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Rose sat beside the accountant, watching as the man’s eyes scanned the rows of numbers on the screen. The secret rooms below Chen Office Supplies were large and luxurious but they had never quite managed to rid the underground chambers of a dank smell. Rose didn’t enjoy spending time here but it was a highly secure location. She felt like asking the accountant if he was close to finishing but she’d already done so twice and there was no sense hurrying the man. This had to be done right.
Rose brushed lint from her dress: a sleeveless silk qipao – black with red roses climbing up from the hem. She then picked half a sticker off her right shoe – crimson leather with a four-inch heel. She wanted to look her best for the evening meeting; a meeting that would change everything. She had waited a long time for this moment.
The accountant leaned back and turned to her. ‘It’s clean. Nice work. No reason why anyone would look into this.’
‘I’m glad to hear that.’
Another million dollars laundered – yet more money for the Red Dragons.
Rose stood, reached into her purse and offered the accountant a small package wrapped in plastic.
‘Ironic, I suppose,’ he said with a nervous grin. ‘Me dealing in cash.’
Despite being under five feet tall (without heels), Rose was used to people being anxious around her.
‘That’s 10% more than you got last time. I know you appreciate it. And I know you will never breathe a word to anyone about the work you do for us. That includes your new mistress. The blonde – Denise, isn’t it?’
The accountant wiped a bead of sweat away from above his top lip.
‘You can rely on me, Lady Rose. Absolutely.’
Jenny stopped the Field Rover a mile from Aureus Gate Bridge. Rose’s lifelong friend and bodyguard never said much but tonight she was unusually quiet. Rose knew exactly why.
‘You want to come with me, I get it. But this is something I need to do on my own. You’ve fought a lot of battles for me over the years but not this time.’
Jenny just shook her head and gazed out through the windshield. It was almost midnight and the streets were quiet.
‘I have to go now,’ added Rose. ‘I’ll meet you back at my apartment.’
Jenny was about to say something but then opened the driver’s side door and lowered her considerable frame on to the sidewalk. By the time Rose had walked around, Jenny was on her way, hands tucked into her jacket pockets. Rose considered going after her but she knew Jenny would understand once she knew everything. She got behind the wheel and pulled the door shut. While adjusting the seat, Rose realized she had never driven this car herself. It was to be a night of firsts.
The dusty area of waste ground was directly below one great tower of the Aureus Gate Bridge. The five vehicles that had already arrived were arranged in a loose circle, headlights still on. Gathered there were four suited men: all Cantonese-Americans and all compatriots who Rose knew well. Completing the circle with the Field Rover, she turned the engine off and went to join them.
Two were smoking. All four greeted her politely and said no more. The doors of the only occupied vehicle opened. First to join the group was the hulking Wang Lei, driver and bodyguard for the long-standing leader of the Red Dragons. Seventy-three-year-old Horace Zhao came next, ambling casually over to his senior subordinates. As usual, Zhao was clad in an immaculate three-piece suit and carrying an ostentatious cane. The affectation was one of the many things Rose hated about the man.
‘Well,’ he said to her. ‘What’s all this about? I have an early appointment at the horse racing tomorrow.’
‘My apologies for the inconvenience, sir, this won’t take long.’
That final word was the signal for three of the men to act. It took only seconds for them to draw their suppressed handguns and pump several rounds into Wang Lei. Dust flew up as the huge bodyguard hit the ground.
The shock on Zhao’s face was almost equaled by Donald Huang, the only man not involved in the conspiracy to topple the veteran leader. Two of his compatriots now aimed their guns at him.
Rose drew her favorite fan from her purse and flicked it, splaying out the points.
‘Your brother,’ breathed Zhao. ‘This is for your brother, isn’t it? I must commend you on your patience, Rose – and your acting ability.’
‘My brother was killed because of your arrogance and stupidity – and it was far from the only mistake you have made in the last few years. That is why I am not alone tonight.’
Zhao seemed to have recovered a little. ‘I was stupid – stupid to promote and encourage you.’
‘On that we can agree.’
Before the aged leader could react, Rose darted forward and jabbed the fan into his neck. Two of the points stuck fast and she waited a moment before retracting them.
Eyes wide, the stunned Zhao fell to his knees. ‘What have you-’
‘-Don’t worry, old man, the poison is fast-acting. You won’t suffer for long.’
Rose could not deny the enjoyment she felt as she watched Zhao claw at his throat then fall onto his side. His body spasmed twice and then it was suddenly all over. The only noise came from the drone of hundreds of vehicles passing overhead.
‘What about him?’ said one of the conspirators.
Donald Huang was by far the most loyal of Zhao’s underlings. Rose had turned the other three one by one – by a variety of means – but had not risked even approaching him.
Huang put up his hands. ‘A most unexpected development,’ he said in a measured tone. ‘But in our line of work, one must be pragmatic.’
The grey-haired Huang slowly approached Rose, who was still holding the deadly fan.
He bowed. ‘I’m at your service … Lady Rose.’
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