Wu Chee Ming looked anxiously behind him. Where were they? Who were they? When would they strike? An attack in a crowded street like this would be over in seconds. A silenced pistol. A knife. A needle. Death would be quick and the assassin would vanish. One face in an ocean of faces.
He was not even sure they were onto him. In fact, they probably weren’t. He had taken extreme care over the last few months to make sure his movements went undetected.
One does not seek what one does not see.
It was a proverb that guided his every move.
And yet, in spite of his meticulous planning, he had to proceed as if they had noticed, which was why he had chosen Lan Kwai Fong, a small, bustling tourist district in the heart of Hong Kong, to make his escape. The narrow streets of Lan Kwai Fong were perfect for what he was planning. Flashing neon. Music. Thousands of people surging in and out of nightclubs and restaurants. The perfect place to disappear.
The perfect place to be killed.
The proverb, however, held the secret to his survival; namely, that the best place to hide is often in plain sight. That people usually do not notice what is right in front of them. Hence, his choice to pass through Lan Kwai Fong each night on his way home from work, so his being here tonight would not attract any undue attention.
Suddenly, an elbow caught him in the chest and knocked him into a group of Chinese girls texting one another. They were holding their phones so close their eyes glistened with light from the tiny screens.
“Kàn tā!” one of them barked.
Wu Chee Ming pushed on.
Ahead, the street bent ninety degrees and sloped downhill for a short block before meeting D’Aguilar Street. Wu Chee Ming turned at the corner and threaded his way uphill along another street filled with partygoers. Within minutes, he reached a short flight of steps that branched away from the street. Taking the steps two at a time, he reached the top and began running along a darkened walkway that angled between a pair of highrise office towers. Before long, the sounds and smells of Lan Kwai Fong had receded into the distance.
Wu Chee Ming knew he would miss those sounds and smells. But at least he would be alive to remember them. He glanced behind but saw no one.
One does not seek what one does not see.
His survival hinged on the truth of that proverb, and yet if he truly believed it, why was he running? Why was he not relaxed in the knowledge that he was but another face in an ocean of faces?
Under normal conditions, Hong Kong was the perfect city in which to vanish. But these were not normal conditions. He was running from a crime boss who knew every inch of the island. A crime boss with eyes and ears everywhere. A crime boss so skilled in the art of death that some people considered it an honor to die by his hand. Dexter Moran was his name, although no one dared address him that way. To everyone in Hong Kong and the New Territories, he was known as Dragon Head, and he was the supreme leader of the Shí bèi organized crime society, which was based in the Zhongzhen Martial Arts Academy.
The name “Dragon Head” was actually a title that had been seized by Moran in the same manner a lion becomes the alpha male of his pride: by defeating or killing his rivals. And not just known rivals, but anyone suspected of being a threat. Which was why Wu Chee Ming had chosen to run. He wanted to make sure he was not among them.
Ahead, beside a tree, was an old bicycle. Wu Chee Ming had purchased it from a repair shop with instructions that it be placed beside the tree this afternoon. It had a basket above the front fender and a tiny dome bell on the handlebar. Lifting the bike onto the path, Wu Chee Ming walked it to an intersecting walkway, where he turned left, jumped on, and began pedaling. In less than a minute he emerged onto a busy street.
Like New York, Hong Kong was a city that never slept. Even at this late hour, cars filled the streets and the sidewalks were gorged with people. A few dings on his bell caused pedestrians to stop long enough for him to bicycle across the sidewalk and into the bicycle lane, where he turned left and began pedaling with the flow of traffic. He kept pace for two blocks, then cut across to the other side of the street, where he began pedaling with the flow of traffic in the other direction. He bicycled past noodle bars, restaurants, and retail outlets offering everything from designer clothing to electronics, phone cards, and cosmetics. Before long, he turned down a side street and raced to the next corner, where he turned right and raced to the next corner, where he turned again. The zigzag pattern took him away from the neon madness of the tourist district and into Hong Kong’s shadowed side streets.
Within twenty minutes, Wu Chee Ming had made his way to a four-story apartment building in a rundown part of Wan Chai. Unlike the glamour and polish of the financial precinct where he worked, this part of town was stained with the gloom of poverty. There were no gleaming office towers of tinted glass. No stepped terraces with architectural flourishes. The buildings were rectangular and squat. Rust and soot were the predominant colors.
Leaning his bicycle against a metal roller door, Wu Chee Ming entered a darkened stairwell and dashed up a flight of steps. There were no lights in the stairwell because Wu Chee Ming had broken the bulbs. No one must remember his face to anyone asking questions. And there would be questions, and Dragon Head would be asking them. By that time, however, he would be long gone, which meant Dragon Head would have no choice but to hunt down the only other person who could give him answers. That person was former KGB colonel Aleksandr Talanov. Talanov, of course, would have no answers because he would not know what had happened. Torture would be employed, and Dragon Head would be merciless, but Talanov would not be able to reveal what he did not know. Yes, Talanov was a walking dead man, while he, Wu Chee Ming, was about to become a ghost.