A Way Through the Mountain

Photo by samsommer on Unsplash

“You are late.” Tengfei Lau scowled and flexed his fingertips. He sat silhouetted against the sunlight that rained into the room from the glass walls behind his high-back chair. The private business room on the 33rd floor of the Kowloon Imperial Hotel was otherwise empty except for the 22-foot-long conference table and two high-back leather chairs.

“Many apologies, Boss Lau,” Nianzu Chan stopped, immediately bowing his head. He wanted to explain — when he had stepped off the elevator, the two large men in black suits posted on this floor had stripped him down, taken his gun, delayed his arrival — but knew it would make no difference to a Triad deputy, especially one like Boss Lau. Instead, he feigned checking his watch.

“That is a very expensive watch. A rare piece. I do not see many like it. Even fewer on men in your line of work.” Lau’s eyes narrowed sharply, his gaze flickered between Nianzu and the watch. “Those Red Poles at the elevator were supposed to sweep you for bugs. I do not allow mobile phone or electronics in my meetings.”

Nianzu held his left arm out straight, revealing the shattered face of his watch. “It’s broken — doesn’t work.”

“Perhaps a sign of poor judgment. A man who works with his hands — so rough — possessing something so fine. Sit down.” Lau gestured to the empty seat. “You are one of our Red Poles, are you not?”

“Yes, I’m one of your enforcers, Boss Lau.”

“So you break things and you hit people. I pay you to be rough. Do I pay you to know things?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Exactly my point. And yet I hear from some of the other Red Poles that you like to ask questions. Questions unrelated to hitting people and breaking things.” Lau paused to unbutton his cuffs and roll up his shirt sleeves, revealing the ornate pattern of tattoos covering each forearm. “And when I have somebody like you who likes to ask a lot of questions, I suddenly start to have some questions. Questions like: How long have you been working for me?”

“I guess about eight months, Boss.”

“And in all of those eight months, have we ever had a one-on-one sit-down like this?”

“No, Boss.”

“Have I ever asked you to book a conference room for me before — to do anything that did not involve your fists?”

“No, Boss.”

“So you come in here flashing that fancy watch. Do you think that you are such a vital piece of our operation to merit a private meeting with me?”

Nianzu’s shirt collar clung to his neck. He had witnessed this kind of theatrical behavior from Boss Lau several times before, but never directed at him. Sometimes at a ruthless enemy from a rival gang. Or to an innocent slight from an oblivious subordinate. Lau would gradually work himself up in this way before suddenly and violently eliminating the subject. Nianzu recalled a phrase he’d often heard his father say: When we get to the mountain, there will be a way through.

A smile crept across Lau’s face. “Of course you know better than that. But I am going to let you in on one of the many things you do not know. When I suspect I have some rat snitch piece-of-shit in my operation — ”

“Whoa, Boss, I’m not some 25.”

“ — what I do is I have him book a room in some fancy hotel. Very high up. Something with a nice balcony view. Then I bring him in for some questions. And once he confesses — ” Boss Lau reached under the conference table and lifted a black duffel. He dropped the bag, which jangled as it made contact with the table. “ — we draft a convincing suicide note. I have to threaten his family first, of course. Then I throw that snitch off the balcony.”

The performance was building to its crescendo.

“How many times have you brought someone in like that and he didn’t confess?”

Boss Lau pressed both palms firmly against the table. “Not once.” He unzipped the duffel and rummaged through its contents.

“That’s a pretty impressive record you have, Boss.” Nianzu flexed his wrist, looked at his watch. “But I’m afraid you’re wrong.”

“What the hell do you mean?” Lau withdrew a pair of tin snips from the duffel, placing them on the table. “They always confess.”

“No, Boss, I mean you’re wrong when you said that was information I didn’t already know.” Nianzu retrieved a sheet of paper from his blazer, unfolded it, and slid it across the table to Boss Lau. “I already know how your plan works.

Without moving, Lau glanced at the paper. “So you are Guozhi’s boy? Looks like you have hold of the deer but you cannot get his horn. There is only one way out of this room.” Lau gestured to the balcony. “The same way your undercover snitch of a father went. ” Lau pulled a radio from his pocket. “Gentlemen, we have our rat. Get in here.”

Nianzu unfastened his watch. “You said this watch looked familiar? You’d seen it before?” He rotated the watch to reveal an inscription on the back, barely visible through scuffs and stains. To my sworn brother Guozhi.

Lau backed away from the table, brandishing the tin snips in frantic arcs. He repeated into his radio, “Get in here! Now!”

Nianzu and Lau turned toward the door.

After a moment, Nianzu looked at his watch, tapping the shattered face.

“Your men are subdued, Lau. And it’s all because of my father. His destroyed watch was the perfect camouflage for my transmitter. PTU officers now have your confession, your M.O., and we are going to go back and trace you to every one of those ‘suicides.’ Time has stood still for me since you stole my father all those years ago. Now it’s finally going to catch up to you.”

As the PTU officers burst through the conference room doors, Boss Lau turned and ran toward the balcony railing.

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