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   PROSE > Portrait of a Crime Boss

A black sedan came to a stop in front of an unassuming building. Two men, one wearing dark glasses and the other a hat, stepped out and walked through an unmarked door. If someone had passed by just then, they would have caught a glimpse of a club inside. But no one passed by that particular street in that particular part of the city. At least, no one that was just a casual passerby.

The man with the dark glasses slipped onto the bar stool near the entrance while his companion proceeded into a room the size of a small office. Neither of them were carrying anything but something in the way they walked, the dark coats they were wearing, made people inside the club seem wary of them. Even the bartender seemed wary as he made a drink for the man sitting behind the counter.

The “office” was a small room, perhaps five meters by seven. It was dominated by two flat video panels, showing images of the entrance of the club, the passageway to the garage, the garage itself, the club inside, and several other rooms in hidden areas of the building.

There were three men in the room, two of them wearing conspicuously large, military-issue rifles, standing on either side of the door. The third man was sitting on an elegant mauve couch, a glass filled with some kind of cloudy liquid in one hand and a cigar in the other. His clothes were all black, like he was dressed for a funeral, and the color contrasted sharply with the bright clothes of his female companion who rose to her feet in slow, languid motions as soon as she saw the man in a hat enter.

“Well?” Mr. Li spoke with a distinct rasp in his voice.

As stories would have it, Li Haotou was once forced to drink hydrofluoric acid by an enraged triad boss who thought it imperative to teach the arrogant upstart a lesson on who was boss and who was servant. The chemical destroyed Mr. Li’s vocal chords but the rest of him remained intact.

A mistake.

The only effect that made was to increase the legend surrounding Li Haotou. That and the well-known fact that the scar tissue inside Mr. Li’s throat could no longer tolerate anything stronger than water or milk.

Which explained the cloudy substance in Mr. Li’s glass at the moment.

In any case, the next month after that incident involving hydrofluoric acid, the triad boss was found naked and dead in the middle of the bed in his mistress’ apartment. The man from the Coroner’s Office declared that he died from chemical burns. Three days after that, Mr. Li married the only daughter of the dead triad boss and took over the business.

To say that Mr. Li was a merciless man would not be going too far. A week after he married the daughter, he dispatched her to a house he kept overseas, never to be heard of again. It was said he had at least one mistress in every major city in the world.

The man in the hat finally spoke, “We’ll do the job.”

“Excellent,” Mr. Li started to say but then the man spoke again.

“But we want more than what you’re offering us.”

“Three mil is not enough for you?”

“The package is worthless to us, but to you, it has value. You asked for the best in the business. We’ll make it worth your money.”

Mr. Li stared at him for a long while. The ash from the tip of his cigar was starting to fall off. The condensation from the glass in his hand was getting bigger. At last, he spoke in a low rasp, “I should have you stabbed right now, cut up your stomach, and let you watch while I feed your intestines to the sharks.”

The man who towered over his seated form showed a tiny little smile at the corners of his lips, but it could just have been a trick of the light.

Mr. Li took a sip from his glass before he said, “Four. And that’s my last offer, Andy.”

The man called Andy bowed and turned, making his way past Mr. Li’s armed guards and out of the office.

“Four million?” Mr. Li’s woman said as soon as the door closed. “For this tiny little package? What’s in it anyway? Diamonds?” Her blood-red mouth was curved upwards in a predatory smile.

“Something much, much more valuable,” Mr. Li rasped, taking a puff of his cigar.

At the bar, the man in the sunglasses stirred but did not turn as Andy approached. Instead, he took out his wallet from his breast pocket and peeled off a crisp bill folded lengthwise. There were several more crisp bills inside: some folded crosswise, others lengthwise, while still others were rolled or folded several times.

The bartender noticed the manner that the bills were folded corresponded to their denomination.

As though sensing his thoughts, the man in the sunglasses grinned, saying the first thing he said since entering the club, “Keep the change.”

And then the two of them, the hat and the sunglasses, were leaving the way they came in. It was not obvious but as soon as they were gone it seemed as though the atmosphere inside the club went lighter somehow. The bartender glanced up just as the light on the stage dimmed and the silhouette of a woman slowly appeared.

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