The Black Dragon, Chapter 32, Part Four And End.

Here’s the last part of Chapter 32. More goings on and more mysteries.

Alex.

Saturday May 28 – Monday June 20, 1932.

Saturday morning we went left our room to drive from the inn over to the shoot. At least Jim, Adele and the rest did. Xing and I went over in our Change because Andy and the rest of the kids insisted for the kids that hadn’t seen us yet, especially the kids that were coming over from across the lake. Xing was a bit overwhelmed by the numbers of fae kids.

The shoot started off and that was when I realize the downsides of the dragon change, our enhanced senses and kids being around. Xing sensed Yaoguai up in the hills and ran right in front of the firing line to get to them. I chased after her but only caught her on the other side of the hill as we watched a rather startled fox dive into a waiting car and leave. I turned to Xing as Scott drove up in a motorcycle. “Xing what were you thinking!”

“The Yaoguai were here. I wanted to make sure that they stayed away from the children.”

“If the cease fire hadn’t been in effect, you would have been shot by everybody in the firing line because they would have thought that you were a construct.”

“Bullets would not have hurt either of us. I have faced muskets before.”

This was one of those times where Xing being far older than I was became important. She was used to black powder muskets which were inaccurate, slow to reload and firing relatively anemic bullets. She didn’t understand about smokeless powder, rapid fire or modern bullets. If the generals in the last war hadn’t understood those things, then perhaps it was asking a bit much of Xing to understand that she hadn’t been running across a line of musketeers. Scott was looking rather annoyed at me, so I Changed. “Alex, how could you be so stupid! I know that you know better. You’ve been up here enough times.”

“I’m sorry, Scott. Xing doesn’t understand and I didn’t think to show her. We’ll head back discreetly and you can give us the beating we deserve in the tent.”
“What were you chasing after anyway?”
“Xing went after the Yaoguai that were sniffing around for some reason. She was worried that they would go after the kids.”

“Those clowns? We’ve been watching them over across the lake for the past week. Aunt Stephie told you about that. What a bunch of idiots. Ok, I will see you at the tent. You do know that you just made work harder for Bob, Doug and I.”

“Why?”
“We’re going to have dragons for the fall shoot or we will have a bunch of disappointed customers.”

He drove off back toward the shoot as I Changed again and we started back to the tent far more discreetly than we left. As we slunk through the woods I said to Xing, “We knew that the foxes were around. It shouldn’t have surprised you like it did. Why did you go off like that? Stephie and Boris have been watching the foxes all week.”
“I don’t know. I just thought of the kids in danger and off I went.”

“The same kids that have been chasing us all week? The kids that leave us wild hogs as snacks? Those poor foxes, especially with Tom here and all of them wanting to show off. These kids didn’t need your protection right now.”

“I know, but the reality of the foxes and what happened that night with my brother tripped things off and I went after them without thinking.”
We arrived back at the shoot, Changed, dressed and went over to the tent for our dressing down, which Al promptly gave us and Bob finished by pointing out that his safety shooter used one of those old anti tank rifles. After Bob finished and Noro came in for a brief chat and left with Tom and Chrissie, Al said, “Xing can you shoot?”

“I don’t shoot. I am a dragon, I have never needed a gun.”

“Against the clowns out there today, probably not. But against somebody who knows what you are, you will. We’ve been lucky and the other side has been rather disappointing. Tomorrow afternoon, you can go up against Bill or Eric in your Change if you like, or me. I won’t have any advantage from using my Change. I’ll have Larry load some half charged cartridges that shouldn’t cause you permanent damage. In any case, you need to learn to shoot for those times that you can’t Change without getting a lot of people hurt. Suppose the Yaoguai forced you to Change in the subway and then started to call out about you being a monster and creating a panic in the station. That is the sort of thing that we have dealt with in our adversaries. Change has its advantages and disadvantages. There are times that we need tools and a gun is yet another tool in your tool kit, especially if the other side doesn’t expect it. You need to shoot for Alex and the children you will have. Learn to do the things that your opponents don’t expect you to do. I think that Bill has a lecture for you as well.”

Bill came over and corralled Xing, me, Jim and five of Jim’s old buddies from the Royal Marines and gave us his class on enhanced opponents. As the class was ending he said, “Thanks to the lady here, we missed an opportunity to actually have a real enhanced opponent today. We had been hoping that he would be available but he sort of ran off in a panic. I imagine that having dragon chase you will do that. Xing, would you be willing to provide us with a replacement?”

Xing laughed. “You should have told me that you wanted the Yaoguai for training. I thought that the kids were in danger. So I will act as an enhanced adversary tomorrow.”

“Xing, we would never let the Yaoguai near our kids. We don’t want to encourage the kids more than they are already.”

After the class Noro came over with Adelle and Chin-ling. “I wanted to let you know rather discreetly that the horse has a new friend and is safe.”

“You were rather vague about that earlier.”

“I tend to be when there may be ears about that might mess things up. I’m also trying to keep Tom out of this as much as possible to keep Chrissie happy. She will make sure that the dragon is safe. You will notice that I did not say that I had been talking to Jim in front of Tom.”

“What do you think that Tom will do about the dragon?”

“He will probably have a copy made almost immediately. We have artist who can do that. Then he will put the copy on the shelf in his office and try to convince the character on the other side that he never had the original dragon. If that doesn’t work, he will have other copies show up in different places, along with other things that he comes up with. In any case, apparently the dragon is perfectly happy to have Tom as its current custodian. Do you still need an appointment with Josh?”

“I’m not sure,” Xing said. “If the horse is off the ship, then I don’t need him to retrieve it. I expect that I can pick it up at any time.”
“We are having a copy made. I have talked with the man that the Yaoguai used as their proxy and he’s willing to go along with having the copy declared a fake in exchange for some things that your mother is willing to trade through Jim. He is also happy that the rest of the artworks on the ship were recovered.”

“When you live a long time, things pile up,” Chin-ling said. “So I am pleased to let some things go in exchange for recovering the things that are our charge. If we can recover the four without being thieves, that would make me happy. Jim has a list of things from the treasure house that we can live without. We can use those as trade for the things that are our charge.”

“So we have two at hand,” Noro said. “Should we let our friends, the Yaoguai find the other two?”

“They seem to be rather bad at that,” I said. “We found one by accident just by checking out antique stores. They must know who their proxies were. Apparently they never figured that the proxies would sell the things.”

“Is there a picture of the objects?” Noro asked.

“There was one,” Xing said. “It was stolen at the same time that the objects were from the temple that had the picture. There are no photographs unless they were taken by the proxies because the objects have been in the hands of the Yaoguai since before cameras were invented. The Yaoguai probably have the picture.”

“That will make things a bit problematical. On the other hand, these people are playing on my home ground and they have been terrible opponents. Unlike our other opponent who I am glad did not see you run off like that today.”

“Tim, I suspect,” I said, grinning. “He’s going to have something in mind.”

“I suspect that he has recruited my grandson, Steve already.”

“Why Steve?”
“Because I didn’t think things through and he invoked family rules. Since you have me, he gets a family member of his choice to help him out. If I recruit another or two for this, the boys, for instance, he could recruit the same amount of family members, say my son Altris or Altris’s grandsons. I created the rule to keep the family from going off the wall during Josh’s bonding and it works. So Tim gets Steve and the navy. I expect that if I recruit somebody else, which I am tempted to do, he’ll recruit Al and Eltra next.”

“What did Steve and Joe do when they were kids?”

“They went after Nera, I invoked the rule and Nera chose Mera, so they went after their mother as well. Of course Nera subverted the boys and they are close even to this day.”
“What if Tim recruits his dad?”

“He probably won’t because his dad isn’t as big a joker as some others, I hope. He’s been staying in the background and been busy, so he could be interesting. This is going to be so much fun. I made a mistake and let my grief separate me from my family. I won’t let that happen again.”

“Do you think that we could get Tim pointed at finding the objects?” Xing asked. “He does have that aggressive attitude.”
“I suspect that he already is. He probably wants to give them to you as an engagement present.”

The rest of the shoot was a lot of fun and the kids insisted that we Change and chase them through the woods which proved to be difficult and exhausting. But there was a huge pork roast at Bill and Hilda’s lean-to to end a wonderful day.

Sunday was painful as Xing learned the hard way that she wasn’t as bulletproof as she thought she was and I learned that I needed to be more careful. Al gave us a real demonstration of just what somebody who knew what he was doing could do to even the toughest adversary, with just a rifle. We also had to face Bill, who without Change was relentless and with his Change a true terror. I thought that werewolves were scary. Bill was worse because he used his Change rather than it using him and used every advantage he could get his hands on. When it was over, Xing, bleeding from several holes as we regenerated, said, “Alex, teach me to shoot. This was humiliating. The worst part is that I know that if either of them had been really trying to kill me, I would be dead. I couldn’t even hide even though Bill was not scanning. I will remember these tricks for the future.”

Greta came over and checked us over. ‘You both seem to be recovering. I don’t have any previous experience with dragons, but I think that you will survive. Don’t try to release your Changes until you recover fully.”

Bill and Al were talking to a bunch of rather exhilarated but exhausted Royal Marines with Jim. One tough looking Sergeant said, “Thank you two for making it as rough on us as you did. I hope that we don’t have to face things that go bump in the night again, but in the last dustup, there they were.” We nodded our ‘your welcomes” and went to over to the millpond next to Tom’s shop to cool off. While we were frolicking in the pond, George got our pictures. We didn’t try to chase him as we were just too tired. The kids found yet more wild hogs and there was another huge pork roast in the farmyard for us. Then we went over to the inn and enjoyed ourselves before curling up together in nice cosy cleft in the rocks.

The next morning we released our Changes and went in to breakfast. Mike said, “There don’t seem to be any emergencies, at least Helmut hasn’t called us. Why don’t we make this a working day off as Nera and I take you around and show you the Academy and the other hot spots? Warning, the kids know that you are coming and Tom isn’t. Tom and Chrissie went back to the Cape Sunday morning.”

“It was a slow drive,” Nera said. “They didn’t have to be at the shop until Tuesday either. So they are enjoying themselves. Nillia and Hans are going on a hike today and taking the train back this evening. Nillia is sharing a world that she said that she hated with Hans and I am so glad.”

Since it was the late spring and not hunting season, The General had taken his grandchildren off on the hike with Hans and Nillia, so Jim, Adele, Mike Nera, Stephie and Boris went with Xing and I over the lake to the Academy and Doug’s place among other things. Of course we should have figured that Ed would have taken Andy and Bruce across the lake with their friend Jimmy and that we would be forced by all the kids over there to give them the dragon experience. It did end with a wonderful dinner at the Academy for us and the kids before catching the train back to New York. Noro had arranged a train car and we all shared it as we had a wonderful evening and Xing and I went to our section I said, “Did you enjoy the trip?”

“Getting shot aside, yes I did. I will not run in front of a firing line again.”

“Especially with Rolf at the end of it.”

As part of the festivities Sunday, Bill had set up a steel plate to shoot at and Rolf had fired three rounds from his huge rifle. Bob had not been exaggerating. He had also had painted a dragon’s head in red on the plate.

“Bob did make his point. I think that my brother would have liked him. I’m sure that my father will when he comes.”

“How did the foxes kill your brother?”

“By letting the Black Dragon into the compound and the temple. The Black Dragon was able to defeat my brother while the foxes carried the treasures away.”

“Why did they only take four?”
“My brother killed three of them and they didn’t have enough to carry all of the objects and still be shielded. If you are carrying more than one and are not a custodian, it is impossible even for the strongest to shield.”
“How could the black dragon kill your brother? He couldn’t have been that large.”

“He is. Remember how I said that you would remain fixed in your Change if you ate too many bears. The black dragon did that when he was young, only it was a village that had offended him. This was five hundred years ago. As a result he will never have a bond, a family or be able to be among people who are not his servants or sycophants. He sits in his domain for the most part plotting schemes so that the dragons rule everything and he won’t have to hide anymore. All because he would not restrain himself when he was younger.”

I was beginning to understand Xing’s protective attitude toward children. I thought about that as she rested her head on my shoulder and we fell asleep.

When we arrived at Grand Central, my Suki free life was over. She had apparently known that Noro and Mary had been on their way down and wanted to know what Tom was up to. She spotted me right off and walked over. “Alex, who are these people?”

“Suki, this is Xìngyùn, my fiancé”

I went on to introduce everybody. Suki smiled and said, “You found a bond, good. I was worried about you. You also have an interesting new family. May I take you all to lunch later? I want to get together with the scoundrel in the background who is trying to sneak away and find out what his granddaughter and her wayward husband have been up to.”

She had nailed Noro with a glance and he whined, “I need to see Lou this morning.”
“No you don’t. I checked with Lou already and he and Josh are going over to New Jersey to see a new chemical installation before it starts up, so you can talk to me about Tom, Chrissie and the rest. So let’s go to the car and your suite and catch up things.”
Suki chivied poor Noro out toward 42nd St. with a smiling lieutenant, Mary and Anthony following behind, leaving us free to grab cabs and head down to the office. Mike and Nera were grinning as we grabbed cabs and headed down to the office. Of course we didn’t get off easy as Mary was there and wanted to know how everybody was doing and I was glad that I had remembered to take a camera and take plenty of pictures which I took back to a smiling Steve. Of course he had other pictures and said, “Alex, Tim and Sal got lucky last weekend.”

“What did they get?”

“Our mysterious seafolk, at least some of them. The Tim’s and Sal went out with the ladies and as part of their trip, decided to explore the lumber schooner wreck. Somebody had a launch over the wreck and was Swimming off the launch. So Sal and Tim took pictures while the other Tim Called Steve at the Wyanadotte and Steve and a Petty Officer Costa came over and Tim and Suzy closed the deal again and the clowns came over and tried to act as if they were Eltra’s people.”
“How did Tim and Suzy play it?”

“As if they were a normal and low fae bonding against her father’s wishes. The clowns bought it hook line and sinker and while they were paying attention to Tim and Suzy and Sal and the other Tim were ashore taking their pictures, Steve and Costa sort of messed up their engine a bit. Then Tim and Suzy Swam around while the rest waited for Stelios to show up in Tom’s boat. The five guys scattered but we got the launch and everything they had collected. A patrol plane went out and got pictures of the ship that the launch came from, but the navy didn’t have anything that could intercept it. We should have the pictures soon.”

I went back out front with the pictures and the pictures of the ship must have come in as the crowd had acquired some people and everybody was looking over something on Mary’s desk. Mike saw me come in and said, “We have pictures of the ship, but some things don’t look right. He handed me the pictures and I thought of something that I had seen during the war when I was being transported over. At that time there had been a ship that had straggled away from the convoy and then returned. It did that twice, acting as if it had some sort of problem. At one point, I had seen the crew make modifications to the ship to change its appearance. I talked with some Royal Navy types after the war while I waited for my ship home and they said that the ship had probably been what they called a ‘Q’ ship. The idea was that the ‘Q’ ship was armed with hidden guns and acted as if it was easy prey for a U-boat. When the U-boat closed in with its deck gun the ‘Q’ ship would open fire and hope to sink the sub. The program had not been a roaring success. I said out loud “’Q’ ship, or at least trying to change the ships appearance. Some of the things on the ship are fake so that somebody looking at the ship sees what they want to see.”
I explained what I had seen during the war and how the ship had changed its appearance to hide what it was or at least make sure that the ship was not seen as being connected to nefarious activities.

Xing had been looking at the pictures and was looking at one in particular. She said to Mary, “Is there a way to make this picture bigger?”

“The navy has the negatives, they can do that. Why do you want a picture of this?”

“I think I see something here, a head that I hoped I would never see again, here.”

She was pointing at what appeared to be an open hold, with the tarp rolled back and a hatch cover pulled up and set aside. Poking out of the hold was what appeared to be a large head looking at the plane. A dragon’s head. Xing went on, “I think that the Black Dragon is here.”

The phone rang and Mary picked up. “Yes Suki, they are here. You would like them to go to lunch where? Ok, I will tell them.”

This was going to be a surprise. I wondered how Suki was going to handle this. She probably didn’t have time to go down to Bennies without changing her schedule and she probably wouldn’t want to have us to the consulate, so the Waldorf was the most likely. She managed to surprise me again.

“Suki is cooking lunch for us at the navy yard. She has all the ingredients for a Japanese stew she calls Ramen and wants to make some up for the girls and the rest of us.”

“The princess cooks?” Chin-ling asked.

“We will find out,” Mary said with a grin.

We did as Suki made us a wonderful lunch in the girls’ kitchen. She also managed to find out all sorts of things about Xing and I, as well as starting up a conversation with Adele, Adele’s mother and Chin-ling about fae lore that was probably going to go on for days just as I had predicted. Jim came over and said, “You warned me about this. Well I will survive and that will leave us free to deal with our problem.”

Xing still looked rather frightened and had asked the Admiral for an enlargement of the photo. The Admiral had sent a petty officer to take care of it and the enlargement was going to be at the kitchen about the same time that lunch was over.

The girls showed up and pitched in and Tim showed up and came over to talk with Jim and I. “You’ve seen our find last weekend.”

“Yes we did,” Jim said. “That was good thinking on your part.”
“It was Merlia’s idea. They never saw Steve and Costa sneak aboard the launch and pull the ignition coil since they were focusing on the teenagers on the beach.”

“Xing is afraid that the boss is on the ship.”

“I know. At least this boss can’t sneak around like the Colonel did. He has to have other people do things for him and the quality of people he’s getting hurts him. On the other hand I hope that this character doesn’t have some people like the major working behind the scenes while the clowns can’t figure out how to find what they are looking for so they go after the one guy they shouldn’t.”

“Do you have a way to find what they are looking for?” Jim asked. “We are also looking for the same things.”
“It’s just the start of an idea. I thought about it last weekend when Altris was talking about how the museum people were so glad to have the exhibition back. It may take some time as Vic and I are doing some travelling for a story. I will tell you more later.”

“What story?”

“I can’t say right now, but it’s a big one and the people involved want things kept under wraps. They trust Vic to do that and that is why they want Vic and I to have the story ready when the thing breaks.”

Tim went back to work and I took Xing and the others back to Manhattan before going to work. That night at my place Xing said, “Do you think that Tom could make guns that we could use in our Change? I can pay him whatever he wants.”

“I suspect he can, or Al can. Why do you want one.”
“Because in our Change we can handle very large guns like Rolf’s rifle easily. The last time I saw that head I think I saw in the picture he was eating my brother after defeating him. I managed to escape before he could do the same to me, though some normal servants were killed, men who had been friends and yes, lovers of mine, who died defending me that horrible night. In fact they sacrificed themselves and kept me from Changing so that I would not charge in to my death because I was the only young dragon in the family before my father’s brother bonded and had his children. This time, if the black dragon comes, I will be ready with every advantage that I can get. We will train with Al and Bill, we will have guns, toys and water tubes, along with pepper and powders. We will bait traps and force him to come to us. We will humiliate and destroy his minions so that he has no support. Then we will destroy him.”

“What happened to, I am a dragon, I don’t need guns?”

“Al makes a convincing argument and proved it by filling us full of holes. I owe the men who died for me too much to be arrogant.”

I kissed this wonderful intelligent woman that I had somehow been attached to. That led to other things and finally, sleep.

The next morning it was the beginning of two weeks of poking around Manhattan and antique stores hoping for a break. We got one when the Yaoguai finally made a move and went after Tom. Of course they did that right in front of Noro’s building and George’s people were calling Mary’s people for the address of the Yaoguai’s stooges, or their boss anyway and Big Jims people were on their way down right after Tom was taken. The good part of the whole thing was that Jídiànjí had brought the picture of the objects with him, shown it to Tom as part of his ‘negotiations’ and Tom had just left with it. After it was over, Noro came into the office with the picture and several photographic copies of it. “I just thought that I should hand this to you. I expect that your friends will want to make sure that it is returned to its owners.”

“Does Tom know what he did to them?”

“We haven’t told him yet. He didn’t know the picture’s significance and just picked it up to have a picture of the objects. He had no way of knowing that it was the only picture of the objects.”

“What is Tom going to do about Jídiànjí and his crew?”
“Not much. You can go up to the shoot and Tom’s birthday party and ask. You are invited. We can leave on the train this evening.”

Xing came in with her mother and Jim and when she saw the picture, grinned. She turned to Noro and said, “Do you have a very safe place where we can put this?” the house is not quite ready yet.”

“Why don’t we put the picture with the horse? We can go up and talk with Tom and get his impression of the other side. Well other than totally stupid. I think that they will be getting a visitor next week.”

Noro took us up to the train and got us on our way. We reached the hotel late in the evening and went to the shoot the next morning. The party was a blast, but Stephie, Jacob, Andy and Trillia managed to convince Xing and I to come out in our Change with the consequences that we were beginning to expect. We had a grand time and the kids did too. We also visited the horse and put the picture next to it. For some reason the horse seemed to like that Xing was there and when I joined her, the air hummed with its happiness. We left it to its contentment and went to the mermaid dancing.

Sunday was fun when Stephie and Jacob revealed the big zoetrope that they had been working on with the kids upstate. I turned to Xing and said, “I wonder how many pictures Tim has of us?”

“Between Tim, George, Chrissie and Sillia, enough. The good part is that I don’t think that he has the skills to make something like this.”

“Bob and Scott do, and Tim has all those kids at the school. He’ll do something like this, I’m sure.”

“Where is Tim? He was here yesterday?”

“Suzy made him hand his camera to Vic and they are Swimming back to the City. They Swam out too.”

“Well we can’t Swim, but we can swim and there are some nice islands out there with sandy beaches and sunny rocks for dragons.”

“What if Noro ‘forgets’ about us?”

“We can call the office or let Mike know. We want to talk to Tom and Al in the morning in any case. ”

Tim.

Monday June 20 – Monday July 4, 1932.

The two weeks after out little encounter on the beach had been busy for me as Vic and I were covering the lead up to a merger from the inside as the people got ready for it. The good thing is that the boss at the company collected Chinese art and when I expressed an interest in doing a story, gave me a bunch of leads to the various galleries, antique dealers and collectors that dealt with Chinese art. Some of the collectors, like Mr. Rockefeller, I knew already. After we had the merger stuff ready to go, Suzy insisted that I Swim out for the shoot and Tom’s party, so we drove out with Sal and Sillia to the Wyandotte and snuck across the beach in the evening across the bay to the party. Suzy and Sillia had arranged for clothes for us, but other than the shoot, which was a blast, we spent the time in the water anyway. Of course Xing and Alex were there and I Swam up to Jim who was sitting on the dock at the hotel with his feet in the water. “I think I may have an approach to finding the other two objects that we were talking about the other day. I haven’t had the time to look into the papers like I wanted, but Vic is going to have me local for the next few weeks and I can grab time.”

“How so?”
“The guy we were doing the write-up for is a big time collector of Chinese art and pottery and he gave me some leads for the dealers that deal in that stuff and the big time collectors. I’m going to go around as if I’m doing a story on the market.”

Stacey was walking by and said, “Do that, Tim, and Ray will buy it. He’s been looking for some stuff about collecting and he can use it.”

“Ok, now it’s a legitimate story.”

Jim grinned. “Adele and I can help you with your article. We have been making discreet sales of things that Xing’s father has had in the treasure house to fund our search. So we are already known in that market. You can hint that I may be bringing over some pieces for sale.”

“Well I need to find Suzy or I will be in trouble”
“TIM! You aren’t working, are you?”

She Swam over. “Jim, Tim isn’t supposed to be working today. So you can talk about this another time. Tim, the music is going and I want to dance with you.”

I could hear the laughter behind me as we went out into the school of dancing mermaids.

“Tim you can’t work all the time.”

“That wasn’t really work. I’m setting up for the dragon chase. Alex and Xing are going to start it at some point and I want to make it as much fun as possible.”

Chin-ling had explained about dragon chases. It was more than just chasing some guy down. The best chases, the ones that were remembered were mysteries and problem solving as well as a bunch of jokes and fun. Since Noro had entered the chase on the other side and recruited Bob and Scott, I had discreetly recruited my father. I don’t think that Noro quite knew what my parents could get up to and they were looking for something fun as they hadn’t had any for a long time. So I had their support and all the resources of the bower. I had also recruited Meria, because she knew Noro better than anybody.

The biggest thing I wanted to do was find the missing two objects and fit them into the chase. I hadn’t seen the picture yet, but I was going to take advantage of it. I was going to go through the morgue then next chance I got and see if the pieces showed up anyplace.

Sunday, Suzy and I had a long slow Swim back to the inn and with Sal and Sillia, had dinner with Mike and Stella who had come out before we did and were driving back. We told Mike about the wreck and stopped by on the way back, but didn’t find anything. Then it was back to the city and time for me to get to work.

Vic and Doris beat us back and nailed me for a write-up about the party to go with the pictures they took. Then it was time for the morgue and I said to Millie, I want to know about the Chinese art exhibit that was at the Met last year.”
“The exhibit where about half of it was lost in a shipwreck last November?”

“That’s the one.”

“So Vic is having you look into the art world now.”
“Yes. This is his usual follow up on a story I heard. We were talking to a guy who is into collecting and showing that stuff and he had some friends who lost things in the wreck. So Vic had me look into it. The good news is that a salvage company is working the wreck and they actually recovered most of the things intact, still in their crates. So I want before pictures.”

She went and got the file and I went over the things in the exhibit and the curator for the exhibit. Then it was off to Brooklyn to follow up a tip. The Troubleshooter was going to shoot some trouble. When I got to the empty pier, Xing, Jim and Alex were already there. Sal showed up with Sillia, who quickly undressed and dropped into the water where I could sense Suzy, Merlia, Stella and the girls from the navy yard. Another car drove up and Bill and Hilda got out with a Chinese man. Hilda said, “Sal, we got him! He did have compulsions. Apparently the foxes had compelled him early on to cover their actions. Tim, Xing, Alex, meet Peng Wang, head of the Chinatown Business Association. He wants to say a few things to Mr. Jídiànjí. He’s going to translate for us.”

Mr. Wang said, “I am pleased to meet you all and to deal with this pest who has been troubling us. Apparently he made a bigger nuisance of himself than he realized.”

“Are Bill and Hilda shoot for the trouble?”

“Yes,” Hilda said. “These clowns went after Tom. I don’t want them annoying Chrissie when she is expecting and Tom is busy right now making a bunch of ladies very happy with his work. If the ladies even get a hint that this character was bugging Tom and slowing the tank bed deliveries, he is going to get wet. So I will make the point in as humiliating a way as possible.”

Sal went over to his car and pulled out a fishing pole. Then he walked down the pier and put the line in the water. Xing and Alex went discreet and the rest of us waited.

A bit later two cars showed up and Tony and Robert got out with Roger and Bob from the bureau. Tony pulled some guys out of the car and said, “Mr. T. wants to have a chat with you.”

Three of the guys were obviously fae, including the rather infamous Mr. Jídiànjí. The fourth was just a young guy dragged up into the mess. I checked for compulsions and he had them, so I pulled them for Sal. Tony and the rest marched the four of them down to where Sal was waiting. I took a picture as they walked past. They looked rather miserable. Sal didn’t even turn around as he said, “You boys apparently don’t know how to be a guest in our country.”

Mr. Wang translated.

“Now your antics haven’t gone unnoticed, but the various people here weren’t going to get involved. Then you had to annoy somebody who was doing important work for a client of mine and more importantly, you annoyed his wife. Now that man is easygoing, but my client wants you to know that he is rather displeased with you.”

Jídiànjí started to yell at Wang and Wang yelled back. Jídiànjí was getting very pissed and yelled at his men, who reached for their guns, only to stop when two quiet pops went off. There were holes in the shirt cuffs on their right hands. Hilda put her little gun away and Sal said, “Mr. Jídiànjí, that was stupid. If I wanted you dead, you wouldn’t be talking to me now. Here’s the way it works. If you become Mrs. Benton’s problem again, you become my problem. I don’t need any problems right now so if you become my problem you might find out what I do to problems. My advice would be to be out of town before she comes back to town. In fact I would be on the next train and back on your way home, for your health. Jimmy, you haven’t said anything.”

“Mr. T. sir, I didn’t have anything to say other than I’m glad that I don’t have to work with these clowns anymore.”

“Well, why don’t we have a discussion with your boss, and see if he doesn’t see things the same way. Tony, take these other clowns and find an appropriate spot to put them in Chinatown, someplace stinky and smelly. And toss those twos’ guns in the drink. They might hurt themselves with them.”

Tony and Robert pulled the two characters’ guns and tossed them in the drink. Then they hauled them off into the cars and drove off. As they were driving away the rest of us started to laugh. Mr. Wang said, “Is that how you do business, Sal?”

“Only to characters like that.”

“Will Mrs. Benton really be that angry with them?”
“They threatened her husband and she’s expecting. She’ll raise hell if they mess with Tom again. I don’t think that you want to know the kind of hell she’ll bring down on anybody stupid enough to mess with Tom over a little jade dragon that Tom traded for one of his pistols.”

“Was that what they were after? I was never quite sure what they were after.”

“That and some other things. Why doesn’t Hilda and Bill take you back to your office?”

“I think that I should. May I tell people about this?”

“Oh, yes. I want you to tell people about this. These characters need to be totally humiliated in their community and I can’t do that.”

Sal put the fishing pole back in the car. “Jimmy, why don’t you come with me and we talk to your boss. Hold on a second I need to talk to my wife.”

He walked over to the water and Sillia flipped up. “I need to make a trip to Chinatown, dear. Do you want to wait here or go with Tim?”

“I’ll go with the girls back to the navy yard. you can meet me there.”

She kissed him and flipped back in the water and the other girls flipped out of the water and waved good bye. Jimmy was looking a bit boggled, but I suppose that was understandable. Sal pushed him a bit toward the car and I turned to Xing, Alex and Jim. “Do you need a ride?”
Xing was laughing. Alex said, “We brought a car, thank you. This was a good one. Sal just there, fishing. He should have been careful or he might have caught Sillia. Sal’s right about Tom being easygoing. Otherwise we would have to be backing up Federal marshalls for deportation hearings as Tom would arrange to have Jídiànjí’s visa pulled.”

“Can he do that?” Xing asked.

“Probably with just a phone call. Of course if Chrissie were annoyed, Jídiànjí would not be heard from again.”
“That would be justice. You don’t know what he has done over there in China over the years.”

I saw two boys in the park and went over, “Shouldn’t you two be in school? Where is your father?”

“Dad is at a stuffed shirt thing and mother is talking with some other ladies, Tim. When we found out about the Troubleshoot we decided to take a chance at it. The lieutenant is right there and we just watched from here. Don’t tell mom, please?”

“I won’t, but you will owe me one. On the other hand I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this either. I think that you boys better scram before this place attracts attention.”

“There was a police officer over there, but he was laughing himself silly and he’s already gone.”

“Make sure you tell all your friends in Washington about this.”

“Oh we will, we will.”

The boys and the lieutenant left and I headed back to Xing, Alex and Jim. “The boys just wanted to see the show. I wonder who told them about it?”

“They were up at Tom’s party and this was arranged there,” Jim said. “They were probably snooping on Sal and this was too good an opportunity to miss. My boys will be annoyed that they missed it but I didn’t want a large audience. On the other hand a large audience and making Jídiànjí look foolish has possibilities. Over in China he has great power and is dangerous. Here he is weak and hasn’t taken the time to understand the culture and how things work. So he didn’t understand that Tom does not work just in one place, but many places. I think that we should be going.”

I drove up to the navy yard and over to the kitchen for lunch. The girls were already there with Mike, Stella and Sillia, talking about Sal’s latest Troubleshoot. Sal, Hilda and Bill came in and we had a laugh at Jídiànjí’s expense. I said to Hilda, “I think that this is the first time that the shoot for the trouble actually shot somebody at one of these things.”

Roger, Bob, Robert and Tony came in. Tony said, “We dumped them in front of a butcher shop in Chinatown. In the garbage cans.”

“Did a bunch of people see you?”

“Yes they did. There were smiles when they saw who had been dumped. I think that our friends the foxes were shaking people down for money. These people are idiots. They were pissing off the people that they should have been trying at least be civil to.”

Mike asked, “Did the people whose compulsions you cleared say anything about how well the foxes are doing?”

“Other than telling us that they were floundering around and didn’t seem to have a clue, no. These people don’t seem to be any closer to their goal than when they arrived last November.”

We had lunch and then I kissed Suzy and headed up to the Met to talk to the curator of the Chinese sculpture exhibit. On the way, I stopped by the bureau and picked up a copy of the picture of the objects. After that it was dropping off the pictures of the Troubleshoot. Andy looked at me and said, “So what did your bring us today?”

“The Troubleshooter did some cleanup in Chinatown. Some characters from Hong Kong were harassing the locals and the business association dropped a nickel on them.”

“Was it fun?”

“Not Jimmy level, but yes it was. I hope these clowns do the smart thing and go home.”

Then it was up to the museum to talk to Mr. Finster the curator of the exhibit and Asian art in general. When I was escorted into his office, he stood up and shook my hand. “Mr. Thomas, I looked into you after you called. I was curious to see if it was some sort of prank. You are quite the intrepid reporter and getting the kidnapping story must have been quite a feather in your cap. So why are you looking into Chinese art?”

“I do some freelance work as well as my photographs and reporting. My editor at the publication I freelance for liked the idea when I suggested that I look into the Chinese art world after somebody else talked to me somewhat about it. I’m always looking for new stories.”

“That’s a good thing. I assume that you are going to college as well as your work at your paper.”
“They are insisting. They want me in the business section so they are putting me through college and hitching me up with a senior business reporter.”

“Well do not neglect studying the arts and culture. It provides a grounding in where we are and where we are going.”

We talked and I got some more names when we were just about done I pulled out my picture of the picture. He looked at it and said, “Where did you get this, young man?”

“A friend acquired the picture more or less by accident.”

“Well the picture is worth a lot of money. There are some rather wealthy monks that would like it returned. The picture was stolen 200 hundred years ago. This is the first time that I have seen it, of course. Where is the picture now?”

“In very good hands. Mr. White has custody of it.”
“Those are very good hands indeed. Is Noro collecting again? He had quite an eye. His wife was better and donated the most amazing things that she would find. She was also very good at finding and bringing new talent to light. She is greatly missed.”

“Everybody I meet tells me that. I never knew her.”

“I have meeting coming up and I expect that you want to be on your way. It was nice to meet you and a very pleasant chat. Please send me a copy if what you’re your article. If it is of the same caliber as your other things, it will be very interesting indeed. ”

I left the museum and headed to my next stop, an antique store that had been recommended to me. By time I had visited the places that I had some ideas about the business for the story and some catalogs from past sales and auctions that I was going to go through when I got back to my desk. The car had actually helped me with the various places as it probably added ten years to the various people’s impression of me and made me into a potential customer.

I had been careful not to show the picture to anybody else as I didn’t want to tip my hand to the Yaoguai or even let them know that I was looking into what they were looking into. I don’t think the clowns had even noticed me at the Troubleshoot and they had no clue that the boys in my old flop were keeping an eye on them. So far they hadn’t even started to look into the places I was.

I actually found another object in a place that handled estate auctions as I had been looking at obituaries and seen that a guy had died in an accident and been a frequent visitor to Hong Kong. Since the auction was coming up on last Saturday in June, I went with Suzy and ended up with the sphere as I bid on it and nobody else did, because it was one of the last items at the auction and by that time the experts had all left. When I told Jim, he said, “That happens. The collectors look for certain things and a small globe that nobody knows how old it is that seemingly doesn’t have a connection to anything else will be overlooked.”
“Do you want the globe?”

“Where is it now?”
“My place. I shielded the building and it’s full of cops feds and firemen and their families. So it’s about as safe as anyplace.”
Jim laughed. “Especially when our friends don’t even know where to start looking for it.”

“The map on the globe isn’t right.”
“It was probably correct when the globe was made. These things are very old indeed. If the object becomes unhappy with you, you can give it to Xing, but the house is not ready and Alex doesn’t want to shield the house until they are ready to move in.”

“Ok, I will hold on to it for the time being. So that leaves just the dagger. Is the dagger steel?”

“Jade. There have been copies made as ceremonial and magical objects. Since you have an object already the real dagger will resonate with you. It will probably not resonate with the Yaoguai.”

“The Yaoguai are still in town. You would think that they would have left after Sal treated them like that. The whole thing has been in the papers.”

Roger had printed my pictures after he saw them and Tony had taken one of the four of them in the garbage cans in front of the restaurant which he handed to Roger, so that was there too. I had taken a bunch of pictures of the Yaoguai rousting people in Chinatown and Canal Street as part of my police blotter stuff and that had been reprinted as well. Tony, Robert, Roger and Bob couldn’t pay for a meal in any of the restaurant in China Town and Bob and Vicky were having a wonderful time eating at all sorts of place for lunch and dinner because they had the office this week.

“They are in a very bad spot. The Black Dragon does not accept failure from his servants. Nor does he understand how to recruit the capable or get what he wants without using force. I imagine that he was rather angry with the Yaoguai when they sent the objects away, but Xing’s father and I with the red foxes did not give them an escape route once they reached Hong Kong, so they arranged for the proxies to bring the objects here. I suspect that they expected that all they would have to do is conduct some quiet robberies of their proxies and go back to China. The red foxes were right behind them and Xing and I were here shortly after.”

“Where are the red foxes. I haven’t run into them.”
“They are here, and more are coming. They are being discreet and staying away from us until we need them. We felt that it would be better to operate independently.”

I quietly put the word out that I wanted to know about characters looking into Noro, Tom and the rest as well as checking out antique stores. On Friday one of the kids from my flop came up to my desk at the paper. “Tim, you wanted know if somebody was looking into Mr. White and things? There’s some character, a Chinaman, paying kids to find Mr. White and Mr. Benton.”
“What are they doing?”

“Giving him the runaround. The kids told Mary already and she said to go ahead and give this character what he wants, but not right away. She also said to talk to you.”
“Ok, Franky. Let the boys know that I want to know about this too. This is a thing like car, so I’ll make arrangements.

On the fourth of July we had another party at Sal’s At the party I was talking to Dad, Mike and Dom and said, “This character is a bi smart than the Yaoguai. He’s recruiting kids. I hope that the doesn’t hurt somebody. I wish I had a bunch of fae kids to handle this”

“You do, Tim. Most of your friend from the neighborhood are fae,” dad said. “Karl’s kids, for instance. Then there are the kids at the school, the kids that didn’t goup to Vermont and some of the market kids.”

“How do I explain it?”
“Why not a fae kids gang,” Dom said.

“I don’t want to use the flop as a headquarters again.”

“There a space that you can set up, Dad said. It’s behind a seafood company near the fishmarket.

“On Manhattan? That could work out for me.”

The party was a blast with the usual mermaid dancing and some dragon dancing courtesy of Xing and her mother and fireworks on a barge again. Suzy made sure that we had fireworks as well.

 

Xìngyùn

Monday June 20 – Monday July 4, 1932.

After Tom’s birthday party, Alex and I had a long chat with Tom and Al about a large rifle. Al said, “I know that my little speech is effective, but not that effective, what changed your mind?”
Have you seen the pictures of the ship yet?”
“Not yet,” Al said.

I pulled out the enlargement. “The Black Dragon made a mistake. He poked his head up to look at the plane.”

They looked at the picture. “Are you sure that is what it was?”

“Yes. I would recognize him anyplace. He made rather an impression on me when he ate my brother.”
“He ate your brother?” Tom asked. “Wouldn’t that prevent him from releasing his Change? The Sharks never ate an entire person individually because the Shark change had lost people to the Change because of that. That’s why several of the bodies from my little incident turned up later on over in Montauk.”
“I didn’t know that,” Alex said.

“The bodies were in pretty bad shape as you can imagine and the police did not make the connection until later and we were a bit busy then with the Colonel. I had assumed that the Sharks had eaten their fellow Sharks but they hadn’t. They just dragged them out to sea. In any case, if the Black Dragon ate Xing’s brother, he wouldn’t be able to release his Change and disappear in a crowd.”
“The Black Dragon lost the ability to release his Change centuries ago. The story has been lost, but apparently he fell for a girl who refused him, he had his first Change in anger, killed the girl and ate her. Then he went on a rampage and attacked most of the other villagers and ate them one by one, growing larger and losing the ability to release his Change. It was only later that he realized the consequences of his actions. His parents and king exiled him from their community and he has been searching for a way to allow dragons to rule and walk freely in their Change while not worrying about the effects that his appetite has on him. He eventually destroyed most of his community and came to us long ago and demanded the things in our trust. We refused him, of course, and that was when he started to suborn the foxes who had been our allies and craft his plan.

I am surprised that he would leave his mountain fortress and travel here on a ship, but the journey is probably not arduous for him because the ship is large and he has been trying to get the objects and been thwarted for two centuries now.”

“So what will you do now,” Tom said, smiling. “Now that the foxes did something stupid and annoyed my wife.”
“Who annoyed me?” Chrissie had been walking by and heard us.

“The clowns who made me a bit late for lunch last Friday.”
“Those idiots? I hope that Sal makes effective arguments. If they come up here, they will not like the experience.”
“They will disappear, Chrissie?” Alex said.

“I’m not going to go that easy on them. Grandfather, Jake and John had fun with the Sharks and you, Al, Tom, and I are going to top that.”

“How did I get involved” Tom said. “I’m not that annoyed with them.”
“Why not?”

“They only wanted to conduct a deal. They started off badly, but I’ve been through worse. They didn’t turn my friends into zombies and set them on poor Puppet me like the Puppet Colonel did.”

This sounded like a story. Alex and I had been so tied up in each other that I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with him about the events that had gone on. Tom told the story with Chrissie and Al making their contributions and except for the zombies it was funny. Apparently Tom and the rest had several Creators to do things for them which explained why they had been so generous with constructs at the shoots. Bob and Scott had obviously done a lot with them in the past as I had never seen the level of expertise that those two young men had. Chrissie ended the story with “Poor Puppet Colonel, he died so well. He ever saw the blade that killed him.”

‘You were a hostage. How did you get a knife?” I asked.

“It was a saw blade and I took it out of the drawer marked ‘blades for table saw.’”

“There was a drawer with saw blades? How many guards did you have to get past to get to that place?”

“None. The only guards we had stayed in their barracks. The shop is across the hall from the pool.”

We hadn’t had a lot of time at the Academy during our last visit and just visited the rooms where the ‘residents’ had ‘entertained’ and the dining hall. We had been running late because of the kid chase at Doug’s. I hadn’t known about the shop, which seemed to be rather ridiculous if they were keeping Chrissie there. I went on, “So they let you arm yourselves with edged tools?”

“Oh, we did better than that. There was a range downstairs with surplus military rifles and ammunition for them. Of course Haruka and I still had pistols in our purses that they apparently didn’t bother to check. The purse had aversions on them, but they weren’t that strong.”

“Why did you stay?”

“We all had tails at the time and we didn’t want to leave the kids and the staff out in the lurch. Tom, Sal and my brother were planning to hit the place anyway as part of the clean up for the Olympics. So we kept the kids and the staff entertained while Tom and my brother set up their usual jokes. I did try to get the rifles out of the building, but my brothers put them back.”

I just couldn’t help myself. I started to giggle uncontrollably. I wondered how good Tim was at playing these games. “Where was Tim in all of that?”

“There for most of it,” Tom said. “He participated in dealing with Jacob and was looking in at the Colonel at the party house. He was also there during the thing with Andy and key to helping defeat the Sharks.”

“Does he like to play games?”

“He’s learning,” Chrissie said. “He’s been working at his spot for the last few years and then as a reporter for this year. On the other hand grandfather showed up and the first thing he did was get that picture of him without grandfather spotting that he did it and didn’t just hand it in to the paper for the bounty. Since he moved out of his parents apartment at fourteen he never had the chance to play the kind of games that Tom did and he never had access to his abilities. On the other hand he is very good at coordinating things and is perfectly willing to prepare elaborate surprises. Tom, you will stay out of the chase even if grandfather asks you.”
“What about Suzy?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. She was teasing Tim right from the day they ran into each other after Tim took her picture. She also Swam in and closed the deal in the Sharks own pool.”

“She did! Why did they do that?!”

“The Sharks had taken Tim when he tried to save my niece, Dori when the Sharks took her outside the navy yard and Suzy decided that the best way to get Tim and Dori out of the Sharks cage was if Tim and Suzy could both Swim out with Dori. So she made sure that he could.”

“Alex we must have long chat. You never told me any of this.”

“We were rather busy with other things and I wanted to put together a packet with all the pictures.”

“I have those,” Chrissie said. “I will be right back.”

She headed back to the hotel and shortly came back with a stack of albums and books. “Here they all are.”

We spent the rest of the morning going through the pictures and their stories. I said about one picture, “If your children ever doubt that you are a mermaid, you can show them this.”

“I’m not sure I want to show them that one, otherwise they might start stuffing themselves in pots. It didn’t even work because my thickheaded husband had already decided to buy his own boat because daddy wouldn’t let Tom run his. Of course when I did show up in his boat, he pulls out his boathook.”

“That was justified,” Tom said. “Not that it would have helped because you had my fixed up boat unfixed and the bridges ready to shutdown if I ran in my truck. You also went right over and were telling your dad what a horrible person I was.”

“You were right behind me.”
“I figured that your dad knew what was going on. I never thought that he was your dad and that he had all sorts of plans for me. Your mother and mine had been plotting together for months. Of course the only person who they didn’t tell was me, until just a bit late.”

‘They tried. Your dad snuck down and tried to get you to the mermaid dancing and you wouldn’t go.”

They bantered back and forth as the rest of us laughed. Then we got down to the serious business of making a rifle for dragons. Al had a large rifle that had proven rather useless for the army and he and Tom said that they could make modifications to fit dragon hands. By that time it was time to catch the train back the city, so Altris had us driven to the station and we headed back to New York. I said to Alex and my mother, “These are remarkable fae that we have gotten ourselves involved in. I’m glad that I found you at last, Alex.”

“Well I am glad that I was here for you to find. I was rather jealous of Mike and the others until you showed up and changed my rather dull life. At last I don’t have to chase stupid monsters that ate people or send somebody else out after monsters that ate people.”

“Well the monsters supply seems to have dried up here somewhat,” Jim said. “We noticed that when we arrived.”

“Tom, Sal and the rest of us sort of dealt with them. Xing, why don’t I have you out on the range again this week?”

“What about the objects?”
“Tim will be looking for them and now that he has a picture, He’ll be using things like his paper’s morgue and the museum to help find them. He is very good at dealing with that sort of thing. I think that Tim wants to use the objects as part of our chase and I think that we should let him. The other side will probably be looking at you and not Tim, at least not until it was too late. So if we have you at the school, learning to shoot and shopping for the house in New York and they follow us trying to use us to do their jobs, they won’t be able to find the objects themselves.”
“Jim?”

“I think that Alex has a point. We were lucky once, but Tim knows the territory and can move around performing the search without attracting notice from the Yaoguai because he will be beneath their notice and he is obviously a reporter. I will continue to keep an eye on him, of course.”

“There is one thing that we have to do Wednesday morning,” Alex said.

“What?”

“I was talking to Sal and Tom and Sal is going to Troubleshoot the Yaoguai that morning. We are invited if we are discreet. He wants us at a pier in Brooklyn.”

“What is a Troubleshoot?” mother asked.

Alex told us and we laughed. After we stopped laughing I asked, “What happened to Jimmy?”

“He got a gig over in New Jersey and a girlfriend. They are getting married soon. So he’s doing fine. We haven’t heard about Vic, and the other characters nobody really cares about.”

“The Yaoguai are strong fae who like to use compulsions.”

“Sal knows that. In fact he’s counting on it. So he will use people who are immune. He’s also discreetly going around Chinatown as Detective DelVecchio and removing some of the compulsions that he finds.”

Tuesday, Alex took me to the school, which had been the house of the king of the Sound bower for a time. The house had been where there had been a rather tragic story involving that family had gone on, but it was a place of happy but rather serious kids learning how to live good lives. Alex handed me over to Hilda who was going to teach me to shoot. She looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I was where you were ten years ago, only I was even more scared. You will get used to it. Just don’t get carried away like my sister and I did.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I was new to the farm about eight years ago and Stephie was the odd girl out because she didn’t really like to have a gun. Al gave us his speech and at the end said that if we needed a way to get comfortable with guns, we should have a contest. So we competed for one of us having to make a Christmas dinner for the other. We got much better at shooting and carried away with the competition of it all. Last year Stephie was ahead, it was approaching the end of the year and my son Andy was taken hostage by an associate of the Director, who called himself The Manager, in an attempt to force me to allow myself to raped to force the werewolf Change. As a result of bonding with Tom’s brother, who had been Twisted, I had the Change without the affliction. So on our way down here, Stephie and I decided that we would let Tom handle things for the most part and use the Twisted, of which we expected there to be a lot of as targets to end our competition for the year. The problem is that when I got into the Manager’s car to get him right where we wanted him, we didn’t have Al, Helmut, or Tom setup for covering fire in case things went wrong and a friend’s son, who the Manager had been holding hostage for some time, so that she would spy on us, ran right toward one of the Twisted before Stephie or anybody else could kill it.”

“Who killed it.”
“My son Andy shot, who prepared himself with a gun that we had made to look like a toy and put in his school bag, shot the Twisted. Still it was far closer than it should have been.”

“What did Al say about that?”
“He chewed us out for risking people’s lives while playing our game. If it had just been the Twisted we were just risking ourselves, that would have been one thing, but I was putting Gregor, Athena, Tony and Robert at risk as well and that was a mistake.”
“What about Andy?”

“Andy knew how to reduce the risk. In fact he prepared himself for the risk and dealt with it. I am so proud of him even though I regret having to force him to shoot something that looked like a person.”

Andy had been one of the kids chasing us at the farm, he had run the range at both the shoots that we had gone to and had bonded with Trillia, the princess of a bower that was going to need a strong hand because its royal family had been devastated by war. Yet he seemed to have handled his experiences well. If his friends were the same way, I was no longer surprised at the attitudes of the people up at the farm.

Hilda started me off with a small rifle and I soon learned something. Shooting was fun. I said to Hilda, “I think that I understand how you got carried away.”

“Fun isn’t it? Just think of that black spot as the thing you hate the most and it gets even more fun. For me it was the Colonel.”

Hilda told me all about what the Colonel had done and what the other Masters had done to her family and so many others. And I understood her and why she did what she did.

Alex came and picked me up when it was time to go home but those scamps Bruce and Andy managed to convince us to Change and then the rest of the kids mobbed us and dragged us to a barbecue that they had set up. The barbecue entertainment was from Tom’s book and I was glad that Tom had given us a copy as I suspected that Tim was going to use it during the chase.

Afterwards we curled up together with the kids while listening to the radio program that Tim and the bureau sent stories to. The zombie cow story was hilarious. I turned to Alex and said, “That didn’t really happen, did it?”

It did, actually. That wasn’t one of Mike’s better weeks.”

After that the kids relented and let us go, so we went to Alex’s place and bed. I thought about how my life had changed over the last few months and how comfortable I had quickly become with a place that had seemed so alien and strange just a few short weeks ago.

The next morning we drove down to the pier and met with Jim. “Where are Adele and Mother?”

“With Suki, sharing stories. She isn’t paying attention to her boys.”

“Why do you say that?”
“They’re here. I’m guessing that they heard about the Troubleshoot and didn’t want to miss it. Not that I can blame them too much. Officer Doolan over there was ecstatic when I told him what was likely to happen.”

Tim drove up and got his camera ready. He was obviously going to make sure that the Yaoguai’s humiliation was public. I don’t think that anything he did could have hurt the Yaoguai worse. Making this public would cause them to lose a tremendous amount of face and respect.

Sal showed up with Sillia and after the Duesie was out on the pier, she quickly flipped into the water and joined some other mermaids in the water. Then Hilda and Bill showed up with a man I didn’t recognize, but who turned out to be the head of the Chinatown business association who the Yaoguai had compelled. Sal started to fish as if he had been there all day. Then two cars showed up and Tony, Robert and two men I didn’t recognize hauled Jídiànjí, two of the Yaoguai and a young man that I didn’t know and pushed them down the pier. Sal didn’t even look at them as he chewed them out. Sal didn’t even raise his voice. The man from the business association translated and Jídiànjí got very upset. He said to the man, “You tell that dog that I will eat his liver. That I will destroy him and all that he has, that he will be shunned and forgotten in the short time that he has to live.”

The man replied, “I don’t think that you want to do that. I will not tell him that because I think I know who his client is. You came here and you still know nothing. You have annoyed some people that are true powers here and they sent this man ot give you a message. This man is giving you advice. I would take it.”
Jídiànjí turned to his men and said, “Kill the dog!”

The two Yaoguai reached for their guns since compulsions were pointless and stopped when there were two quiet puffs and holes in the shirt cuffs of their right hands. Sal hadn’t even turned around as he continued to explain the trouble that the Yaoguai had created for themselves. Then he had Tony and Robert toss the guns in the water and haul the Yaoguai off back to Chinatown. The whole thing was obviously intended to be as humiliating as possible and cause Jídiànjí to lose face and any ability to continue as had been. It would have been better for the Yaoguai if Sal hand simply killed them.

After it was over, Alex asked me, “Should we join them for lunch?”

“I want to shoot this afternoon, so let’s have lunch at the school. Jim, do you want to come?”

“I have a ride and business to conduct, so I will pass.”

He left and we headed to the school, where we had the range tyrant and his tailed girl friend watch us as I continued my practice. That set the rest of the week as we worked on the house Mornings and I practiced shooting in the afternoons as Alex talked with the fae and looked in on the foxes, who hadn’t recovered from Sal’s troubleshot and were rather disoriented and shocked by what had happened to them.

Jim came by the school on Tuesday and said, “Tim found another one.”

“Where?”

“He has it now. At his place.”
“Who did that happen?”

“He took Suzy to an auction last Saturday for a date and bid on the globe. Nobody else did.”

“So he had to buy it. How much money?”

“He can afford it. For that matter he could have bought everything at the auction if he wanted.”
“He doesn’t act as if he has a lot of money.”

“Between one thing or another, he did very well at the end of last year and he has access to all the bower’s business. It hasn’t really hit him yet. Frankly, I like him better this way. In any case he has the globe.”

“Is it in a safe place?”
“His apartment, which is Sal’s old place in a building full of police, firemen and Federal agents. He shielded the building. Breaking in would be difficult and likely to get a fox arrested.”

“Have you told the red foxes? They might not be as willing to understand that we shouldn’t go after the objects.”
“I told them. They are also waiting for your chase and wish to remain discreet if possible.”

“Do they know where the cup and the horse are?”

“The cup, yes. They are a bit concerned that it is left where it is. On the other hand, the cup can be purchased at any time and they are waiting to see what Noro does with that. As far as the horse goes, that was your task and I told them that it was essentially done. They also like the fact that you and Alex have bonded.”

“Has Adele been enjoying herself?”

“Very much so. She and Suki have been sharing and enjoying themselves thoroughly. They have also been visiting the fae hotspots with your mother and Sal’s mother. The general took charge of Suki’s boys as well as mine and said that as long as they were going to sneak out they should do that properly and that he and the lieutenant would show them how. He’s been taking the boys all over the city and looking at forts and whatnot. He’s also rather miffed at me because I didn’t tell him about the troubleshoot so that he could bring the boys.”

“The Yaoguai were how you and Adele met. He doesn’t like them either.”

“I don’t think that anybody does who encounters them.”

“They do have that effect. One would think that Jídiànjí and his people would learn that what they do has consequences.”

The rest of the week was being at the school or the house working with Adele and mother to clean and get things ready. The contractors were finally finished and the house was ready. So Alex and I took the weekend off, went up to the cabin and enjoyed ourselves while I taught Alex how to dragon dance. Then mother and I danced for the kids amongst the fireworks at Sal’s for the fourth of July and Alex and I had a swim and a chase in the woods before finding a place and being together for the night.

 

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