Seventeen: In An Alley


Friday Night, Day 12 – Guangzhou Alley


Sartaq pushed, pulled, bent and folded the cardboard around him as a breeze swirled loose trash in the alley. The white marble facade all around his spot next to an office building held the warmth. He shifted the cardboard to stay cool and, therefore, alert. He had no plan of sleeping that night. He had a good view across the avenue into the hotel’s lobby and wouldn’t miss them.

Well past midnight when he was sure they would be asleep, he temporarily left his spot and crept down the alley, searching in the shadows. He found what he wanted in a pile of construction debris, a nearly whole red brick. Struck clean with it, the American would go down. Two or three more blows would finish the job.

As he tested the brick’s heft, he heard a voice.

“Heavy enough to kill?”

Looking slowly in the deep shadow to his left, something stirred.

“Could be,” Sartaq offered, his body tense and ready.

“You’ll have to be close with that. Real close,” the voice cautioned.

“Leave me alone,” Sartaq growled.

“Sure,” the voice rebuked. “Just do the same. Leave my alley.”

The shadow shifted and, as it moved, something glinted.

“Is that a knife?” Sartaq studied the dark.

“Why? Are you interested?”

“Could be,” he admitted.

“You don’t look like you can afford it.”

Sartaq turned slightly so the arm with the brick was shielded from view by his body. He slowly cocked the arm, preparing to throw.

“Stop!” The voice commanded.

Sartaq heard the metallic click of a gun’s hammer being cocked.

He froze.

After a moment, he slowly turned so the arm with the brick would be visible and let his arm descend even slower than it had risen.

“Is the gun for sale?” Sartaq smiled.

It was the shadow’s turn, “Could be.”

Ten minutes later, a wary peace in effect and terms reached, 3300 RMB and a blued steel Chinese NRP-9 revolver changed hands.

In the dim light, Sartaq opened the cylinder and pressed the ejector, six rounds falling out into his palm. They were all unfired and he reloaded and closed the cylinder. The barrel was longer than he preferred, he guessed about 100 mm, but it fit just fine in his right front pants pocket.

He thought briefly about using the revolver to get back his cash but the seller never came out of the shadow and Sartaq didn’t know what else he might have hidden. And he knew any noise like that now would jeopardize his chances of catching the American in the morning.

Watching the shadow for any sudden movement, Sartaq slowly backed away with his new possession. Ten meters away, he carefully turned and walked back to his observation niche across from the hotel.

Pulling the cardboard up again, Sartaq smiled.

I have two weapons. First, I’ll try to use the silent brick, or second, I’ll kill him with the gun.

The American would be dead tomorrow morning.

But his smile slowly faded as he thought about Lili. After their talk on the train, he was sure her silence would last only as long as the American was alive.

If I kill the American, then I must kill her, too.

Through the long night, it was Lili’s nine year old face that tormented him. The memory of her sitting cross-legged on the blue and white painted ceramic snake they’d discovered on Mount Luojia was still clear. He remembered the smell of moist dirt pounded beneath their feet across the top of the ridge, the richness of decaying leaves collecting in clefts either side where they would roll and play, and the sour-sweetness blowing up from East Lake and whispering through the branches high above.

Tomorrow, I must kill her, too.


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