"Cracked ribs, concussion, two broken fingers. You got away pretty cleanly, I'd say," Nathaniel said, flipping through the pages on Eric's chart.
"I've had worse. When are they going to let me out of here?" Eric asked, looking with disgust on the sorry excuse for dinner on the hospital tray in front of him.
"They need to keep you overnight for observation. Standard procedure with a concussion, I hear."
"Yeah, it is. I fall asleep, I could die. I've heard it all a bunch of times. Said it even more."
"How are you feeling?"
"A little dizzy. Otherwise fine. How's Johnny?"
"Pissed off. His dad gave him that car. 'Course, if you guys had been in your T-bird, you'd have been a smear on the eastbound lane, so it was a good thing his dad gave him a freaking tank. Tell me about this rival gang that hit the Russians. You know them?"
"These guys weren't a rival organization, at least not one I'm familiar with."
"How can you tell?"
"No tattoos, for one. Tattoos are big in that world, and these guys weren't rocking any."
"That's hardly a basis to say it wasn't a rival gang."
"Oh, there's more. The way they carried out the hit -- totally not consistent. These guys were organized, professional. You saw the Mercedes. You find any bullets anywhere but where the bodies were taken from?"
"Not a one."
"It's not like there's a weapons-training program for gangs. You just kind of figure it out, which means a lot of shots go wild, a lot of collateral damage. These guys poured 40, 50 rounds into the car and didn't miss once. Also, these guys were older than the typical runners you get to pull a public hit."
"Low-level members. Street-gang types, mostly. Guys their age, or my age, really, are usually at least middle management."
"So they're older and more experienced. That all you got?"
"They were dressed the same. Like, in uniform."
"Not to mention they had throat mics and in-ear recievers," Johnny said from the door of Eric's hospital room.
Damn. I didn't even notice that. Maybe this guy isn't such a bad cop after all.
Eric nodded as if he had noticed it, too.
"And the hardware they used. They weren't carrying some knockoff Chinese AK-47s -- their guns were military ordinance," Eric continued.
"What? So you're saying that the fucking Army is taking out random members of the Russian Mob?" Nathaniel shook his head.
"Maybe not the Army, but definitely Army-trained," Johnny said. "These guys moved and operated just like the SF guys I saw in Iraq."
"Is that what you're going to tell the Russian Mafia in your meeting with them Friday? Yes, Johnny told me. And yes, I think it's a terrible idea. There's no way I'm letting you go through with it."
Eric sat up in his hospital bed, and he could tell from the sharp pain it brought exactly which ribs he had cracked.
"We don't have a choice now. These guys, whoever they are, know that the law is onto them now. Unless we find out what the Russians know and put a stop to it quick, you're going to have open warfare in the streets. You'll have blood running knee-deep in the storm sewers within a week."
The hospital released Eric the next morning after a minor bit of concern over his lack of appetite. Eric assured them he was fine, deciding not to mention that the quality of the hospital's food was the reason he wasn't eating. Nathaniel had offered to come back before work to drive him home, but Eric declined -- he'd just take a cab.
That plan, however, had one unexpected kink -- judging by the hour and a half he spent waiting outside the hospital, Omaha had exactly three cabs, and all of them were off duty. An hour and forty-five minutes after he'd initially called, a red and white Chevy Venture finally pulled up to the curb. Seven minutes later, Eric was unlocking the door to his apartment.
"Would have been faster if I walked it," Eric grumbled.
The @Newcastle Johnny had brought over the night before was still sitting on the table. Eric put it back in the fridge, though he had no idea what he'd ever need it for. He'd already called work the night before and let them know about the car accident, so he had the day off. Eric realized he hadn't gotten more than two hours of sleep in the last 48, so he headed for the bedroom. He was out as soon as his head hit the pillow.
When he woke up five hours later, he was hungry -- he realized he'd barely eaten in the last 48 hours, either. The @Newcastle was all that was in the refrigerator, so a restaurant was pretty much the only viable option. He quickly showered, shaved, and dressed, then walked outside, got in the Thunderbird, and drove off.
Not thirty seconds after he had left, a black BMW 525 parked across the street from his apartment. A shockingly thin man with long, black hair, dressed all in black, got out and went into the building.
* * *
Eric was halfway through a well-deserved steak when his phone rang. He considered not answering it, but it was Nathaniel's office number, so he pressed the Talk key and brought the phone up to his ear.
"Eric. I need you to come down to the station as soon as possible."
"Can it wait? I'm in the middle of, you know, food."
"Johnny dropped by your apartment to check on you. He caught someone inside. Guy took a shot at him, but Johnny managed to take him into custody."
"Is Johnny OK?"
"Yeah, the guy missed. I'm going to have to ask you to come in and see if you can identify this guy."
The waitress was just passing by, and Eric flagged her down.
"Can I get you to wrap this up and bring me the check?" he asked. She nodded.
"I'll be there in 20 minutes."
Eric hung up the phone, paid his bill, and got directly into the T-bird. He'd driven halfway to the station before he realized he'd left his to-go container sitting on the table in the restaurant. He was still hungry, but it would have to wait -- he needed to find out who Julian had sent for him.
Johnny met Eric at the station's front door.
"Hey, Eric. Looks like someone wanted to pay you a visit."
"Sounds like. What does the guy look like?"
"Skinny. Long hair. Doesn't look like much, but damn if he isn't scrappy."
Eric felt a chunk of ice drop into his stomach. Russel.
"All right. Let's go take a look at him."
Johnny escorted Eric upstairs to an interrogation room's observation area, where Nathaniel was sitting, looking through the glass at a man they had shackled to the table. He was thin and had long hair, as Johnny had mentioned. Somehow, though, the Deputy had neglected to point out that this man was Chinese.
"You know this guy, Eric?"
"Not to speak to. Met him once. I know his reputation, though. That, gentleman, is Chen Yang Shao. He's an enforcer for the Chinese Mafia down in Miami. And I'm frankly surprised he didn't kill you," Eric said, nodding at Johnny, "You must have some moves, farm boy."
"I'll run him through NCIC. First name Chen?" Nathaniel asked.
"Last name's Chen. He insists on the old attribution for his name, which I don't think is actually his name. And don't bother with the NCIC. You won't find anything. He's completly off the grid -- you won't even find a birth certificate or ID on this guy."
"How do you know that?" Johnny asked, scratching his neck idly. Eric noticed that the index and middle knuckles on his right hand were bloody.
"Like I said, I met him once, but I've heard a lot about him. Triads smuggled him into the country from Hong Kong in '96, when he was in his early 20s. He'd already racked up a pretty decent number of kills for the 14K Triad over there, and the South Florida organization paid to get him. The Triad here in the states was still pretty small at the time, but they've kept him insulated from law enforcement ever since. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the one arrest he's ever had."
"The guy didn't seem that tough to take down. I mean, sure, he hit hard, but come on," Johnny shook his head.
"Like I said, you got game, Johnny."
"But why is he here?" Nathaniel asked.
"Have you asked him yet?"
"Of course. But the guy doesn't speak English. We're waiting on an interpreter."
"Oh, fuck that," Johnny said, flinging open the door to the interrogation room and stalking inside. The door closed behind him, and Johnny turned to Nathaniel.
"What, does he speak Chinese, now, too?"
Nathaniel turned on the microphones in the room so he could hear what was going on.
"You," Yang Shao smiled at Eric.
"Yeah, me. Cut the shit, Yang Shao. I told them you speak English."
Yang Shao spread his arms as wide as the shackles would let him and shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah, well. The gig, as they say, is up, I suppose. How you been, Eric?" Yang Shao grinned, his English as smooth and unaccented as if he had been raised in Dumptruck, Iowa.
"Motherfucker," Johnny shook his head.
"Quiet," Nathaniel hissed.
"I've had better days. So, Jian Wa sent you up here to kill me, then."
"My, my. Aren't we full of ourselves? I show up here in Redneck Falls, and you assume it has something to do with you."
"I'm not wrong."
Yang Shao smiled widely. His skin was paler than Eric remembered, and something looked off about his eyes. It could have been his imagination, as well, but the man looked thinner than when Eric had met him two years before.
"But in this case, my friend, you are, in fact, wrong."
"Right. You drove 25 hours just to -- what -- vacation? In my living room?"
"I don't vacation. I'm not here looking for you -- obviously, I knew right where you were. I'm here looking for someone who's looking for you. Simple as that. Now, if you should happen to get caught in the crossfire. . . " Yang Shao shrugged as he trailed off.
"Yeah. In case you haven't noticed, you're not really going anywhere."
Yang Shao smiled again.
"You really believe that?"
"Tell me who's after me," Eric demanded flatly.
"Oh, you already know that," Yang Shao nodded.
"Of course you did. And you were right."
"He's already here."
Eric stood up from the table. As he placed his hand on the door, he turned back to Yang Shao, who smiled at him.
"No worries. We'll see each other soon," the thin Chinese said.
It sometimes amazed Eric how fast the human mind worked. In the time it took him to open the door, he decided that he was much safer with the Chinese assassin free than locked up in county jail. In the time it took to walk through that door into the observation room, Eric realized that Nathaniel would never agree to release Yang Shao, though Eric decided he'd try convincing him anyway. By the time he'd closed the door and opened his mouth to speak to the two Sheriff's Deputies, he'd already hatched a plan to break Yang Shao out.
"I need to ask you a really big favor, Nathaniel."
"Hopefully it's not what I think it is," Nathaniel sighed.
"I need you to cut this guy loose."
"Yep. That's what I thought it was. No way, Eric. I'm beginning to trust you, and all, but I don't even trust my own wife that much."
"I'd say not. You're getting divorced. No ring, but the imprint of one that was there for a long time," Eric answered Nathaniel's shocked look. "The guy that's after me is just as bad as this one, if not worse. I stand a much better chance of surviving with Yang Shao out on the streets."
"I sympathize," Nathaniel said after a pause, "Really, I do. But we've got him on breaking and entering --"
"Which goes away if I say I let him into the house."
"Assaulting a police officer --"
"Which goes away if Johnny says so."
Johnny shook his head.
"And possession of and discharging an unregistered firearm. A Desert Eagle .50, if you were interested. That one doesn't go away. This guy's going to County no matter what."
"I understand you can't release him, but I'd definitely advise against County."
"And why is that?"
"Look at him. He's sick. He didn't used to be that thin, and his skin isn't supposed to have that unhealthy grey color."
"Didn't hit like a sick guy," Johnny muttered.
"He is. I -- well, Eric Austen was a medic. Have someone check him out."
"Fine. We'll take him to the hospital under guard. I'll have a doctor look him over."
Johnny nodded. A hospital, even with a police guard, would be much easier to break Yang Shao out of than the Douglas County jail. It would mean dismissal from the Witness Security program if he was caught, and probably a nice, long stint in Federal prison -- but it was better than being hacked up and fed to whatever wildlife was indigenous to this godforsaken part of the country by a certain mute sociopath.
Twenty minutes later, Eric was outside the station, leaning on the trunk of his car and talking to Johnny when the doors opened. Two large Deputies were escorting Yang Shao to a cruiser. Eric and Johnny stopped talking and watched as one of the cops opened the cruiser's back door, the other holding tightly to Yang Shao's left elbow.
What happened next happened in slow motion. Eric heard the handcuffs hit the pavement as Yang Shao whirled, his hands and feet a blur. The cop who had been holding his elbow flew backwards, his face streaming blood. Before the other could get his hand on his gun, Yang Shao bounced his head off the side of the cruiser.
Eric felt Johnny drawing his gun, but Yang Shao was already over the hood of the cruiser and gone around the corner. Eric and Johnny set off after him, but by the time they rounded the corner, the thin Chinese was nowhere to be seen.