A Matter of Justice
J.C. Long © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Inspector Richard Yang was not at all surprised when he received word from Johnny Hwang’s people that Johnny wanted to see him. Actually, he wondered what had taken Hwang so long; he’d made the arrests three days ago, and they’d been all over the news and in newspaper headlines.
Hong Kong Police Department Anti-Gang Task Force makes headway with the arrests of three highly influential and well-placed members of the Twisted Viper triad. It was long and wordy, as far as headlines went, but it spared anyone the need to read the damn thing. No one read newspapers nowadays, especially with the Mainland trying to crack down on the press.
Yang debated whether or not he should take Hwang up on the offer, finally deciding that it would be amusing to hear, if nothing else. Just after six in the evening he left the apartment he shared with his wife of forty-one years and made his way to the meeting place Hwang had suggested, a ye shi not that far from Aberdeen.
The night market was just beginning to see a lot of visitors when Yang arrived, but there was still parking space available near the market’s entrance so he didn’t have to walk that far. It wasn’t that he couldn’t; he was a tough old bastard, even at sixty, and got more than his fair share of exercise as a member of HKPD. He wanted to have a quick getaway available for him in case Hwang decided to pull some shit.
He doubted he would, it being a public place and all, but he’d learned in his years on the force to be very careful with criminals, especially the crafty ones. And Johnny Hwang was about as crafty as they came, at least in Hong Kong. Still, the market was a very public place, and if Hwang were to do something, it would cause a lot of complications, so Yang didn’t expect trouble.
Hwang’s message said to meet him near a noodle stall called Mrs. Chu’s Noodles. Considering how many food stalls went up in the night markets, Yang thought it would be a problem, but almost as soon as he entered, he saw a sign over a large noodle stall that read “Mrs. Chu’s.”
Mrs. Chu’s stall was easily twice the size of the other stalls around hers and had about the same advantage in customers. Behind the stall an older woman with slate-gray hair in a hairnet bustled about, tending to her customers, who were seated along three sides of the square that was her stall.
“Mr. Yang.” A young man—thirty-three or -four at the oldest, young by Yang’s standards—in a well-tailored suit approached him, giving him a polite and respectful bow of his head. “If you would come with me, Mr. Hwang is waiting for you.”
“Well, at least one thing can be said for your boss,” Yang said as he followed the man to where Hwang sat in the farthest seat along the right side of the square, where he could be partially concealed by the stall itself. “He’s got you puk gai trained to at least pretend to be human beings.”
If his words irritated his escort, he didn’t show it.
Johnny Hwang was almost finished with a bowl of ramen when Yang joined him, a cloth napkin covering the front of his dress shirt. Slurping a long line into his mouth, Hwang gestured toward the chair next to him.
“You’ve got to try the noodles here.” Hwang motioned toward the woman—presumably Mrs. Chu—who immediately moved to dip out a bowl of noodles for him.
Yang shook his head to signal to her he didn’t need anything. “I’m not here to sample the fare with you, Hwang. So why don’t you tell me why I’m here—not that I don’t already know.”
A vein throbbed in Hwang’s temple at Yang’s words, but he otherwise showed no reaction. “Straight to business, then? Yes, of course—I imagine you’re quite eager to get back home to your lovely wife.”
The observation was not made with any particular tone, but Yang recognized it for what it was: Hwang making it clear he had done his homework on Yang. It also reeked of the potential for a threat. The implication that his wife might get brought into this did not have the effect Hwang most likely desired. It just pissed him off.
Yang could feel the heavy gaze of the Twisted Viper’s leader as he observed him, looking for some sort of reaction.
Making sure to keep his words and expression casual, Yang replied, “Something like that, yeah.”
“Well, I guess we’re both busy men, so I will cut right to it, since you insist. Your Anti-Gang Task Force recently arrested three men—”
“You’re referring to the three members of your triad that I brought in for possession of illegal weapons and drug trafficking, right? Just so we’re clear.”
Hwang’s lips drew back in the slightest sneer. “I do believe you’re purposefully irritating me, Mr. Yang.”
“Not at all, Hwang.” Yang left out the respectful prefix, ensuring that it was glaringly noticeable in its absence. “Perhaps you’re simply not used to people calling you on your bullshit. I’m not one of your underlings, so don’t expect me to act like it.”
Over his shoulder, Yang could hear the sharp, angry intake of breath from his escort. Hwang, though, just sighed melodramatically. “This would go so much faster if we could just be civil to one another.”
“This would go so much faster if you’d just say what you came here to say,” Yang replied. “But since you want to just beat around the bush, let me save you the trouble. If you’re going to ask me to release your men, the answer is hell no.”
Hwang finished the last of his noodles, pushing the bowl away from him and giving his stomach a satisfied pat. “Delicious. Mrs. Chu’s noodles are truly the best I’ve ever had in Hong Kong.” He made a motion with his right hand, smooth and simple. Yang’s earlier escort stepped over to Mrs. Chu and paid Hwang’s fee.
“And no,” Hwang went on, crossing his legs as he relaxed back, no doubt to ease the tension on his stomach post eating. “I don’t give a fuck about those three—they got caught; they deserve what happens. What I want from you is for you to turn your attention elsewhere. Leave the Twisted Vipers alone. There are plenty of other triads on the island you can take off the streets. It would certainly look better for you to get some victories, wouldn’t it?”
“What’s wrong, Hwang? Can’t handle the heat?”
“I’m not scared of you or your task force, Yang.” Hwang sneered, straightening. “However, it is becoming a slight inconvenience as far as my business interests are concerned. Naturally I don’t like it when anyone messes with my money. It’s a simple request: take the Twisted Vipers out of your sights for a while, clean up the riffraff wannabes on the edge of the island, or the Dragons. Just stop focusing on me and mine.”
Yang couldn’t help it; he laughed, a deep, rumbling belly laugh that moved through his whole body. “I’m curious, Hwang. Did you really think I was going to say yes to the offer?”
Hwang’s face had gone cold when Yang began to laugh. “You should think about this seriously, Mr. Yang. You’ll live longer.”
“My mother-in-law was Korean. My wife makes kimchi damn near every day. I read somewhere that kimchi is one of the healthiest foods in the world. I like my chances of living longer.”
Yang stood, and Hwang did the same. “You have a good night, Hwang. Try not to do anything illegal.”
Conroy Wong looked at the gathering of young men and women in front of him. They sat at the largest table in Mama Fo’s dim sum shop, Conroy at the head. He had often been told he had movie-star good looks, and he vainly agreed with that assessment. He was taller than average in Hong Kong, six foot three, with a broad, muscular frame he showed off with pointedly selected fashion choices—tank tops, tight V-necks. Today he wore a tank top underneath a short-sleeved button-down that was navy-blue with white polka dots.
Among the people he sat with, he noticed quite a few interested gazes from woman and man alike, and more than a few starstruck looks, as well. These he didn’t pay any attention to; he was used to them.
Eleven people joined him in the dim sum shop. The restaurant was empty aside from them, closed down to allow for Conroy to handle this business in peace. Mama Fo could always be relied on to help the Dragons.
They’d eaten dinner first, and now that everyone was finished, Conroy stood to address them. “You’re all here because you’ve expressed an interest in joining the Dragons. That’s cool—we’re always looking for new blood—but before we go any further I want to make one thing clear.”
He paused, taking the time to look each of them in the eye. Man, Wei should be here doing this, not me, he thought with an inward sigh. He didn’t know why he always got stuck taking in the potential grunts.
“You might be sitting here right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got what it takes to be a Dragon. Only time will tell if that’s the case or not. I want you to ask yourself why it is that you’re here. Joining the Dragons isn’t a way for you to build your reputation, make a name for yourself. You won’t get famous being with us. It isn’t a way to get girls or guys—okay, well, it does help,” he amended, earning a few chuckles.
While he spoke, he made careful note of who was paying attention and what they were paying attention to. It was pretty easy to see the glory-lust in some of their eyes, and anyone looking for glory like that wasn’t welcome among their numbers. Glory hounds usually only accomplished one thing—getting people around them killed.
“It’s also not the place to come if you’re just looking for violence, either,” he added, catching the gaze of a short but brawny guy at the far end of the table. The remark earned the slightest roll of the eyes, and Conroy knew he had him pinned. The guy was looking for trouble. “I like a good fight as much as the next guy, but that’s not what the Dragons are about. We’re not about fighting and money, guns and drugs. If that’s the shit you want, you need to bounce outta the Eastern District and maybe hook up with those puk gai in the Twisted Vipers.”
At the mention of the Twisted Vipers, the triad that ran the territory neighboring the Eastern District, there were scowls all around, and a few of them actually spat to the side. Good; idolization of the enemy wasn’t allowed in the Dragons.
The Vipers were the chief rivals of the Dragons, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before a full-fledged war broke out between the two groups. The approach of the inevitable conflict had Conroy there with these people. Wei wanted to shore up the Dragons’ numbers in case everything really did go to shit.
Conroy took off the button-down then, pulling up the tank top and presenting his back, showing the colorful dragon tattoo that curled up his back along the left side, its head coming to rest on his shoulder.
“This is the symbol of the Dragons,” he said, making sure that they all got a good look at it. “This represents power, compassion, and a noble heart. Those of us who wear it have dedicated ourselves not only to the Dragons, but the cause as well.”
Conroy lowered his shirt and turned back to face them. “What’s that cause?”
“The people,” a woman, no older than nineteen, answered immediately. She sat to Conroy’s right, a seat she’d hurried to take when they arrived. There was a fierce intensity in her eyes when she spoke, a look that reminded Conroy of Wei.
She just might have what it takes.
“That’s right. The people. We’re protectors of the people, first and foremost. We fought five years ago to make this a safe place for people to live and raise their families, and we aim to ensure that. Now, as time goes on, you’ll each be meeting with other members of the Dragons, and eventually those we think have what it takes will meet Wei and it will go from there.”
The door from the restaurant opened, and a whipcord-slender figure came in. Conroy didn’t need to see his face to know it was Chris Ma; the man’s hair was a dead giveaway. He’d recently changed it from copper red to what he called “mermaid blue” and cut it so it fell jagged across his face, reminding Conroy of an emo singer from early 2000s America.
Chris stood with his arms crossed over his chest. He was an inch short of six feet, but his hair always made him look three inches taller. Despite his slenderness, he was damn good in a fight, and no one Conroy had ever met was better with a knife than Chris Ma.
Conroy wrapped up with the potential recruits, sending them on their way after letting them know someone would be in touch. Once they were gone, Chris approached Conroy.
“How were the newbies? Any of them gonna actually get through?”
Conroy shrugged. “A few, I think. We’ll need to weed through some of the more bloodthirsty ones, though. I’ve got my eye on one or two I’m pretty sure would be exactly what we’re looking for.”
“That’s good to hear. So, you up for hitting Indulgence tonight?”
Conroy considered for a moment. Indulgence was a popular bar and karaoke place in the heart of the Eastern District. It was a favorite spot of the Dragons. Conroy loved karaoke and sometimes spent three nights a week there. It helped that Dragons drank and sang at a very deep discount.
“All right,” Conroy said. “But I’m driving.” Conroy hated allowing anyone else to drive. They always ended up frustrating him. Why let other people do it when he could do it so much better?
Chris chuckled. “I knew you’d say that, so I took a taxi here.”
Indulgence wasn’t very far from Mama Fo’s, and traffic was light. It was the second week of October, and the nights were finally getting chilly. It seemed like summer was finally releasing its oppressive hold on the island. Conroy had no complaints about that—he loved fall, especially since its crisp air signaled the approach of Hong Kong Pride, which would occur the next month.
Chris and Conroy were immediately given a booth and provided several rounds of free drinks to get them started. By their second hour there, they were having a damn good time. They had company join them—a few people drawn by how wildly and into the singing Chris and Conroy got—and more drinks flowed—for Chris, at least; Conroy was driving, so he stopped after the second round.
Around nine, Conroy made his way to the toilet. On his way back to the booth, he noticed a familiar figure sitting at the bar, bent over the remnants of a bottle of Tsingtao beer, a hat on the bar next to him. It was impossible to mistake the distinguished, aging figure of Inspector Richard Yang, especially after his big television appearance for busting three of the top Twisted Vipers. Hwang was probably pissing himself with anger. Conroy couldn’t help but grin at the idea.
He walked to the bar, keeping a respectful distance, careful not to startle Inspector Yang. “Sorry to bother you, sir, but I feel like I owe you a beer.”
Inspector Yang’s eagle-sharp eyes took Conroy in quickly, particularly the part of his dragon tattoo visible since he’d left his button-down in the karaoke booth.
“Dragon, huh? Heard this was a hangout for you. Didn’t think the Dragons were too friendly with cop-types, given the history between Superintendent Dang and your boss, Wei Tseng.”
“For a man who’s causing as much trouble for Johnny Hwang as you are, I’ll make an exception.”
Yang’s smile was as sharp as his gaze. “The enemy of my enemy, huh?”
“I didn’t think we were enemies,” Conroy said.
Yang pushed away from the bar. “You Dragons operate outside the law, just like the Twisted Vipers. Sure, you’re worlds better than them, but the fact remains. As long as people like you and Tseng and Hwang think you’re above the law, Hong Kong will never know peace. You have a good night.”
Conroy watched Inspector Yang go with a mixture of respect and annoyance. The man had balls of steel, he’d give him that—he had to, to stare down men like Hwang. But to lump the Dragons with the Vipers? The man was nuts. If he hadn’t been a figure Conroy respected, that would have earned him a fist to the jaw.
Conroy shook his head. He happened to glance back at the bar before making his way back to the karaoke booth and spotted a hat. It was an old-fashioned bowler hat, the sort people wore in noir movies. He didn’t tell many people, but he was a little bit obsessed with the noir genre, had seen just about every film he’d been able to get his hands on.
For a moment Conroy contemplated just leaving it—it would serve Yang right after the shit he’d said—but decided to take it out to him.
Conroy hoped Yang hadn’t departed, and he scooped up the hat and hurried through throngs of people making their way to the bar or a karaoke booth. The booths in Indulgence weren’t soundproof by any means, and a varied mix of music—from traditional Chinese songs to Japanese and Korean pop music to famous Western songs, like the eternally popular Beatles—sung with varying degrees of skill created a background hum that would stand out to him later, one of the few moments of the evening that did.
As Conroy stepped out into the late evening, Hong Kong created a background hum of its own: traffic, talking, laughing people, street vendors selling their wares. Conroy looked to his left and saw a younger woman, dressed in the uniform of Indulgence. No doubt she was a waitress or hostess there. The tip of a cigarette glowed, and she had her face buried in her phone. Conroy guessed she was on break.
To his right was a taxi stand. Inspector Yang was the only person there. It was still a bit early for people to be leaving the nightclubs, and the taxi drivers were more focused on the plentitude of fares wanting to go there instead of the few people wanting to leave. Yang would probably be waiting a while.
“Inspector,” Conroy called. He took three steps when his fourth refused to follow. He looked over to the traffic light, a fluorescent green, and the simple black town car moving in slow motion while the world around pressed play.
The car crawled to a stop and sat quietly. Another breath—in, out—and Johnny Hwang exited the backseat.
Conroy didn’t know what the hell he was doing there; this was Dragon territory, a place Hwang had no right to so casually enter. Conroy bit back his irritation, the imminent war between gangs on his mind. He couldn’t confront Hwang without talking to Wei.
“I didn’t think we had anything more to say to each other after our last meeting, Johnny,” Yang said, his voice terse, unintimidated.
Balls of steel, man, Conroy thought with grudging admiration. Balls of steel.
“Don’t worry. I’m not here to talk.”