GRASPING THE DRAGON

Johnny Yoo watched his men unload the pallets off the truck under the amber lights of the loading dock. This was the largest shipment in a year, so he’d made the two hour drive from the city and supervised the drop-off personally. In the midnight cold, his cigarette smoke made bright plumes. Twenty four crates in all, each with over sixty kilos sealed inside, were pulled off the shipping container attached to the 18-wheeler. His men broke down the crates within the hour, prying off the lids and stuffing duffel bags with the packets they found inside.

While his men loaded up their own cars, Johnny strolled to the cab of the truck and yelled for the driver to poke his head out. He recognized the man’s creased face and crooked nose from three months ago, the last time Johnny had needed a delivery in the middle of nowhere.

“Everything went alright with Robertson at the border?” he asked.

“A-OK,” Sam replied, the driver’s name coming to Johnny’s mind just then. 

“You’re his go-to guy, huh?”

“I’ll take any job,” Sam drawled, his bleary eyes never quite locking on Johnny’s own.

Johnny chuckled to himself and when the unloading was done, he slipped Sam two hundreds which was received wordlessly. As the truck rumbled to life, Johnny made a mental note to give Robertson shit for hiring the same trucker two shipments in a row.

In the passenger seat of his car, he watched the convoy that followed him split off, each set of headlights blinking away as they took different routes back to the city. The buyers would move fast. Soon, the teams of Johnny’s men who’d been entrusted to complete the sale would meet with each of them. With bulk shipments they needed speed on their side, and Johnny made a point of not having to stash anything in a safehouse for more than a month. 

At least, that’s how it usually worked. 

A guarantee. That’s what the Brothers offered to their clients. Any intercepted shipment that had already been paid for would be replaced. The new synthetics were cheap to make and their organization was large enough that they could afford it. That was what Johnny Yoo counted on. 

He was by no means the first to try and game the system. Johnny had studied the others who thought they could rip off the Brothers without any consequences, and knew that each one soon dropped off the face of the earth. Johnny was smarter than them. 

Every few months he would report the shipment he’d ordered had been caught at the border from Canada. And Johnny never lied. He only called when they actually had been intercepted. But customs inspector Robertson’s skills did not have any bearing on his integrity. 

For a year’s salary, every time this happened, he always made sure to under-report how much was on board. Then under cover of night, Johnny received what hadn’t been seized. Finally, Johnny would call in the Brothers’ guarantee, and the replaced shipment would cross the border unimpeded. Two for the price of one. 

This was not greed, Johnny often told himself. He was patient. For two years his stockpile had only been growing, keeping the price constant so both the Brothers and authorities were in the dark. Never greedy. That was the motto. Never do anything greedily. Johnny Yoo knew that this was not greed but necessity.

Johnny took out the phone reserved for the Brothers and made the call, “I just got word from the border. The shipment’s been intercepted. I’m going to need reimbursement.”

***

Somsri sat on a straw mat laid over the wooden boards with six other wives, in a room that left no room to walk between them. On their left, each had a basket filled with packets of white powder. On their right, stacks of dried tea leaves, compressed into bricks wrapped in plastic. The women opened up the tea, inserted the packets, and resealed the plastic. Open, insert, reseal. An assembly line of their own, their nimble hands filled a crate every hour. Each shipment held 24 crates, each crate held 240 packets. Outside, Somsri could hear one of the men on the lab floor yell over the churning of the machines. 

In the room, the women didn’t have to wear rags around their noses and goggles to protect their eyes like the men, but they could still smell the acrid chemicals boiling away just outside the door. Somsri always hated when it was her turn to cook, because on the way out of the kitchen shed, she’d have to walk past those men who churned the vats made from old oil drums. Beyond them, long tables covered with winding glassware distilled the brown tar into clear fluid, which dripped into waiting trays. Further down the line, others wore hospital gloves and hunched over day-old trays, scraping the dried liquid into the packets and weighing them. The last step before the drugs came to her room. In the cramped warmth, Somsri hunched over her work but the shouting of the man outside, whose voice she now recognized as Hoang’s, made her work slower than usual.

He had come to the mountain three years ago, and his men had built the compound in record time. Somsri’s husband was one of the first men in the village to protest, and soon he had raised a group of about twenty men who marched to Hoang’s doorstep. But when Hoang met the crowd at his gates, the guns his men brandished quickly silenced them. At first, all Hoang had asked was for the villagers to be kind to their new neighbors. But soon that kindness meant more than keeping their mouths shut. 

The villagers who lived in the valley never revealed the location of the compound on those rare occasions when the authorities happened to pass through. For this favor, Hoang made his first offer of generosity, and began hiring the village men. He had called it the way to make all the poor farmers rich. Somsri had heard of drug lords, with fields of poppy hidden in the highlands, but she never imagined they could take over a village like Hoang had done. Within a year, Hoang had more than enough men he needed to run the lab, most hooked to the very same synthetic drugs she packed into crates everyday. With no sight of their husbands for days on end, the most spirited women decided they could suffer in silence no longer. Hoang hired them too. 

Sometimes after an all-night shift, the path back to the village would be too dark to walk, and so the men slept with their wives on the floor, or gave them their bunks. Those nights, she missed the children she left in the care of her grandmother so much that they almost seemed unreal. She once dreamed that she sat in her bed, stuffing her swaddled daughter into a brick of tea leaves, or nursing the packets of white powder, which crumbled as she pressed them closer to her breast. 

Now Somsri reached to her left and found she was grabbing at nothing because the wicker basket was empty. She stood up and carried the bulging basket filled with the bricks of tea, stepping around the others to leave the packing shed. Somsri could hear Hoang clearly outside the room, as he stood right outside the garage door where the women’s work would be loaded onto the trucks. But he was speaking Chinese, so she could only make out his swears, when he lapsed back into Thai. He was cursing under his breath which probably meant he was on the phone with a customer who he knew not to upset. 

A month ago, Somsri had seen two Chinese-looking men enter the lab with Hoang. He’d led them to his office in the back, and two guards had followed the group in. The idea that those men, who might have passed as tourists in their slacks and sweat-stained polos, were behind the operation that had taken her village still loomed large in her mind.

As Somsri set down her load by the nearest truck, she didn’t return to the packing room as she should’ve but walked past the trucks and stepped out into fresh jungle air. She stood atop the hill where the lab looked over the verdant expanse of the valley, shrouded in dense canopy. Her village was kilometers away through unmarked roads that wound around steep hills. The trucks, crates in tow, would make the long journey to the docks tomorrow. 

But then Hoang was barking orders to all of them, probably having been told off by his Chinese boss from who-knows-where. He yelled that they would have to fill a dozen more crates before day’s end. Somsri wished for the coming night to be over quickly, and felt a familiar throb when she realized she would not see her children off to bed.

***

Johnny Yoo swept his eyes across the room and found them locked onto the woman hanging from Brother Gao’s arm. When a Brother showed up to one of these gatherings, he usually brought a socialite or some minor singer from the city in China where he was in charge, or if he really had some pull he’d be seen with an actress who’d landed a Hollywood role. This woman was neither. Besides the fact that she couldn’t speak Cantonese like Gao and his men, her Mandarin was like his, accented by a tongue more used to English. She was also the only one who didn’t dress like a woman trying to land a rich man.

Johnny figured that with his silk shirt and pinky ring, Gao would have stuck to that convention, like the other men sat around the table. Eight other captains with giggling women. Half operated out of North America like Johnny, but only Gao held the rank of Brother. Johnny hid it well, but their raucous laughter almost made him sick.

Whenever he made the trip up to Toronto he’d needed to pay his respects and dine with these old men whose idea of a good time was returning to the same restaurant they’d been to a hundred times before. It looked like a hurricane had swept through the dishes on the Lazy Susan, with waitresses just now entering to clear the sauce-stained china. They got drunk and made the women sing ancient love songs. This time, it was no different, except for two things. It was the first visit he’d made since he’d started skimming off the shipments and the first time he’d wanted a Brother’s woman.

 Someone had just finished telling a loud story when Johnny realized Gao had stood from his seat and was walking over. When he felt the hand on his shoulder, Johnny knew to stand up and follow Gao as he parted the folding screen decorated with golden cranes. They’d booked the largest private room in the restaurant, forty floors up in a high-rise, and Gao slid open the glass door to the balcony.

He offered a cigarette and Johnny took it, bending over to Gao’s outstretched lighter. While the night wind whipped about them, Gao said, “You’ve done well Yoo, despite everything.” 

“Thank you, Brother,” Johnny said in Mandarin. 

“There’s been a lot of bad business here lately,” Gao continued, casually referring to all the Brothers’ North American territory.  Johnny bristled when Gao began to say, “If you ever need assistance-”

“I appreciate the offer Brother Gao, but I trust Brother Three put me in New York for a reason.”

The corners of Gao’s wide mouth turned up, and Johnny knew he understood. Invoking Three’s authority was the only respectful way he could tell Gao to fuck off.

“I’m sure he had his reasons,” Gao continued, “but if it’s too hot for him in Toronto, just make sure you don’t burn yourself.”

From anyone else, Johnny would’ve taken it as a threat. For a moment he thought that what he’d stolen from the trucks had been found out. But Gao handled the casinos in Macau, and both of them knew he had no pull in the U.S. Brother Three may have been laying low, but that was all the more reason he’d be watching closely to stop any disruptions. No matter how ruthless the Brothers, Johnny knew they were predictable. He told himself there would be no changes in North America, and that Gao only wound him up for the sport. 

“I’m flying back tomorrow,” Gao finally said, grinding out his cigarette, “I’ve got a package Brother Three wants you to hold onto. It’ll be flying in. You’ll get the details.”

Johnny could tell Gao was trying to gauge his reaction at the news. Johnny had to admit the test was smart. Gao’s rank meant he couldn’t refuse and there was no room for error in an airport. Mules that flew in could only carry so much strapped to themselves or packed in suitcases. They were supposed to be fodder. Now he had to make sure one made it through. And he was still waiting on the replacement shipment. 

“As you wish, Brother,” Johnny said, watching Gao’s back as he walked back to the table.

“Oh, and if you want Zoe after I’m gone, take her. She seems to like this life.”

***

The package was put into Lin’s hands by a bleary-eyed woman who obviously regretted taking the early morning shift. Lin stood in the stairwell that led out of the building’s cellar, staring at the oblong parcel he held in both hands. Last night he had been woken up at three in the morning by the ringtone of his burner phone and told to expect a package. But there had been no mention of time nor place. The anticipation had prevented him from going back to sleep. 

It had been delivered here? In broad daylight? Lin snapped out of his reverie and glanced up at the waiting delivery woman. He quickly signed with the fake name he used for all business with the Brothers. While Lin watched her speed away down the lonely street on her motorcycle, he realized why his employers had done it this way. Of course they knew where he’d be, he was their associate in the city. 

Lin remembered the rest of the instructions he’d been given last night, and with the package in tow he hopped on his bike and made for the edge of the city.

Commissioner Zhao’s committee hadn’t decided on an official name for it yet. Technically it was only the latest district to be added onto the greater metropolitan area. When it was finished, the fresh concrete would blend seamlessly with the rest of the prefecture. There would be no trace of the barren countryside it had once been.

The thing Lin hated most about the city was the sky. White, paper white. He hadn’t seen a blue sky in three years, the clouds only got heavier with rain or the smog thinned to let in the glaring sun. Now the brisk wind made him hunker down into the collar of his coat, breath fogging up his glasses. 

Lin biked entirely alone down the four lane road that ran through the center of the business district. Monuments of concrete, steel and glass speared those pale, pressing clouds. Radiating out from the city center, more buildings erupted from the ground, leaving only alleys between them. Telephone poles and street lights, which sprouted weed-like from the ground. 

These were the places that had so interested the Brothers, and Lin had been assured by their representatives that they’d had great success in other cities just like this one across the country. Lin had felt nauseous when he first heard their offer, but it made perfect sense. The noise of construction, truckloads of supplies, workers coming and going everyday. For as long as the city stayed empty it would be the perfect place for a lab. Or something more sophisticated.

Lin was riding through where the bulk of new construction was happening. And the bamboo was everywhere. The forests to the east had been stripped clean, and the groves in the hills were being chopped down for the next wave of construction. But the bamboo in the city never stopped growing. Scaffolding erected and swarmed by hordes of laborers. They scaled the wooden skeletons, hammering, sawing, welding. Once a building was finished, the scaffolding was taken down just as fast as it was put up. A pop-up forest the workers called it. 

Eventually the pavement he pedaled over became a dirt road, and he knew he was at the edge of the city. The buildings here were different, old. They were bare cement cubes stained by water damage. Further down the road, they crowded the outskirts of the city, dotted with window slits like a million empty eyes. This was what welcomed Lin when he’d first been sent to the city by the provincial government. It reminded him then of his parents’ only childhood photographs. These houses were relics of those lean times.

As Lin pedaled past the crews tearing them down, he thought of an empty beehive, gray and brittle. Lin’s day job was to revive the old, empty hive, along with all the others under Commissioner Zhao. At 28, he was the youngest city planner they’d hired, and on days like this he missed when that was all he was. Before the Brothers recruited him.  

It had been a year into the job when he knew the city would fail. But only because it was never supposed to succeed. When he had agonized over the Brothers’ offer many months ago, he told himself that billions had been spent on this metropolis in the middle of nowhere, all to keep local officials rich. At most, less than ten percent of the city would ever be occupied, the shiny new buildings just adding value to land which would be sold by men like Zhao to the highest bidder. Regimes changed but the families in the party stayed the same, and this scam was the inevitable consequence. Lin knew this was true, but had forgotten how much of this argument had been supplied by the Brothers’ representatives.

So Lin took the money. He’d let the Brothers send in their crew. Kept quiet about what they’d built in the cellar he’d walked out of that morning. Then the favors started. Add one more truck to the invoice. Hire the names on this list. Get creative with the utility bills. Now apparently he’d been reduced to a mule. Lin thought it must be some kind of loyalty test. Maybe that was what the Brothers did to all their associates before they got to live the good life. 

Lin arrived at the rendezvous, where dirt road met waist-high weeds. He realized he couldn’t hear the sounds of construction anymore. He was impatient. He reached into his satchel for the package, past the bundles of freshly withdrawn money, the plane ticket and a fake passport he’d been sent. It was less dense than he’d expected. There was another layer of foam or something beneath the entirely duct-taped exterior. The only label, written in classical Chinese, read ‘Pu Erh Tea’.

Lin heard a rustle in the trees and instinctively turned around. A sparrow caught his eye. It perched on a tree branch and tended to its nest. It was the first animal he’d seen this close to the city in years. They were getting comfortable. 

A black sedan arrived. Lin stepped in and it drove off to the airport.

***

Sam’s was the last rig to pull into the lot, and he turned down the volume on the radio as he began turning to align it with the crane. While he straightened out the bare chassis of the truck, he could see the dockworkers all around him clocking out of their shift in a steady stream. He heard the hydraulic hiss of the truck in front of him moving on with its cargo, the lights of ships winking out against the darkening sky, the silence of the machinery. Sam knew it would start all over again the next day, but for now it was peaceful.

He rolled down the window to get some sea air, when he noticed that night had already begun to fall. It had been light when he arrived in Toronto just half an hour ago, and already he could see the moon in the darkening sky. On long hauls he sometimes lost track of time, the distinction between day and night blurring in the cab. 

The port crane loaded the unmarked white shipping container, and Sam engaged the pins, locking it in place. Though Sam couldn’t see the individual crane operator perched in his control box, he felt like they both knew each other. The last Wednesday of every month for the last five years, Sam made sure he arrived during or just after sunset. Rain or shine, there’d be an unmarked container waiting for him. And when he delivered it to New York, he always got a fat bonus. 

Before this arrangement Sam had driven for the family. The Rizzutos had gotten him through hard times, when the cab was the only place he could call home. He worked hard for them in return. And though they had decided to cede the route, they still tried to act like they were in charge, as if because it was technically the Rizzuto’s route that they had the power. But Sammy and the thousands of mules he would never meet knew the real score. Whoever had made the deal with the Rizzutos were pushing over twenty times what they did at their peak. There was no competition.  

It had been almost a decade but still all he knew was that they were Asian. From three countries at least, and the ones who picked up his cargo were usually Chinese, so he guessed they were the leaders. He’d asked around before, but he knew the friends of the Rizzuto family who bothered to speak with him were lower on the totem pole. After asking other truckers too, he’d gotten at least a dozen different names for their organization. 

Sam had stopped asking questions after the first time he used their junk. He’d been clean for years, since the Rizzutos would’ve come down hard on him for that “degenerate” shit even though they were the ones pushing the stuff. But whatever cocktail they shoved between those tea leaves was something else. The first bag he stole from a crate lasted him about a month. He cut that kilo every which way and sold it at the stops off the loneliest highways. From the moment it entered his veins his nerves remembered it, and the addiction had kept a stranglehold on him everyday since. 

He’d taken a beating from the open road this year in particular. Drive for ten hours, smoke like a chimney, sleep upright, keep on rolling. But now even the routine was failing to keep him together. He craved something stronger than cigarettes. Sam told himself he had to keep making the deliveries. To keep his dignity. The money kept him from wasting away like junkies on the street. He had to drive to live. 

With the trailer ready to go, Sam set off, eighteen wheels trundled forward past the gate. The cab turned onto the street. And into a fleet of interceptors, screeching their tires to a halt. 

“Turn off the vehicle and step out! Hands behind your head!” blared over the police loudspeakers, The blue and red glare reflected off the black and white police cars as sirens rang out. As Sam stepped out of the cab, he clasped his hands together to keep from trembling. He stared blankly at the ground as they jerked his arms behind his back and handcuffed him.. 

***

Johnny knew his footsteps were going to wake Zoe. She seemed to wake twice, the first time when she rubbed her eyes open, and the second when she sat bolt upright from where she lay on the bed, as if she’d seen a snake in the satin sheets. 

“What are you doing?” was the best her dry voice could muster.

Johnny did not answer, he threw his wallet, phones and keys into a bag and began rummaging through his cupboards for the papers he’d need in case the safehouse didn’t hold up. He heard her repeat the question.

“I’m going away.” He knew the ‘why?’ would come next, and when it did he tried to set his shoulders so he didn’t look so disappointed. 

Turning to face her, he saw again the gleam that first caught his eye in that restaurant. That face that had been wasted on Gao. Those soft lips that now looked set in stone, the curve of the brow that waited for his answer.

Something boiled in the back of his throat when he looked at her. A stunted rage that wouldn’t explode and fuel his limbs because he had nothing, no one, to strike. He would’ve struck the man he’d picked up from the airport yesterday if he could. Lin, the mule whose eyes were just the opposite of Zoe’s. Beady, fearful and most of all unprepared. When Johnny first laid eyes on him, he had seriously entertained the idea that it was a setup, and that DEA would be all over both of them before Lin made it through customs. And when he looked at her the rage reminded him that he’d traded away her perfect face for the sagging cheeks, the cringing fear of that mule. 

“You know I can’t tell you,” Johnny said grimly, “They would find you and take it from you.”

Zoe sighed indignantly, “So you bring me out here and get sick of me in less than a year? I’ve heard worse excuses, but at least your bosses always gave me something as a parting gift.”

Johnny laughed and put on his coat, which only made her eyes light up with anger, because she knew he didn’t buy her cynicism. 

“So what’s the reason then? Why are you running? Johnny, who’s gonna touch you? It’s your city!” she continued. 

Johnny knew she probed him largely to calm herself down. He’d never allowed her to see him like this before. He realized his panic and haste might have scared her more than the danger Johnny was running from. 

“They stole something from me,” he said, finally sitting beside her but refusing to reach out, “Something I earned.” 

It was only after handing over the mule to Brother Three’s men that Johnny knew he’d have to leave everything behind. Over the phone, the men he’d sent to the port told him the replacement shipment had been caught. The one that Robertson knew to let pass. Sammy the driver would squeal. The customs inspector would be caught soon. The stockpile raided. Robertson might have gotten sloppy. But only a Brother could have timed it so perfectly. Whether it was Gao or Three or all the Brothers, they’d won. They’d pulled him away from the shipment, from Zoe. 

She now stood, and moved to block the apartment entrance, arms crossed and still apprehensive. Anyone else gave him that look and Johnny would have thrown them to the ground, but something in him demanded satisfaction. Demanded the guarantee that she wouldn’t be taken by whoever the Brothers brought in. No one but himself, no matter how long he had to lay low. 

“When it’s safe, I’ll let you know where I am,” he said. 

“I might not be here by that time.”

They locked eyes, bodies right up against each other. Heartbeats passed between them but Zoe parted, and Johnny knew somehow that stern look would not be his last memory of her. Johnny walked out the door and went to the one place they could not find him.

***

The crowd’s yelling was muffled by a sudden squall. Agent Waters finished his cigarette, the collar of his overcoat pulled up to his ears. In this cold, he savored the smoke. At the apartment’s entrance, a gaggle of local cops rushed to put up the yellow tape, telling the residents they weren’t getting in anytime soon. Their captain, red-faced and squinting from the snow barked orders, fuming or freezing or both. Slowly the crowd began to disperse, trudging through the snow to get to their cars. Waters flicked the stub onto the pavement and crunched out the embers.

How had they missed it? The building was less than a mile from the Allen street restaurant where they knew Johnny Yoo did business. They’d bugged every inch of that place, they’d kept eyes on him for months, and never once did this apartment come up. It was too small for a safehouse. Maybe one of his girls owned it? She would’ve been seen with him before. 

Right under the agency’s nose. And his men had only shown up because of a goddamned anonymous tip. As it stood they had nothing. No records of last night, no idea who called from the payphone. Just a dead Yoo, sprawled across the couch. 

Waters thought about when he’d first arrived at the scene, nearly sprinting out of his car. When he’d stepped into the apartment, he saw Yoo’s gaunt body sprawled over a couch, tongue lolling, eyes rolled in his head and dried spittle down his chin. The forensics team was just about done taking pictures. They picked his body up by both ends and zipped him up on the gurney in the hall. When Waters asked the men in white bodysuits and blue gloves the probable cause of death, they simply said he’d overdosed.  

Bullshit.  Sure, he might sample the product, but he wasn’t a junkie dealer digging into his own supply. Yoo had been the Brothers’ distributor for all of New York state. OD’ing on his own product was out of the question. The autopsy would need to be fast-tracked, though Waters knew that probably wouldn’t get him any closer to who else was with Yoo last night.

Walking back to his car, Waters replayed the scene again in his mind. Black numbers on yellow stands littered the apartment living room. They’d found five different phones, and bricks of tea with the Brothers’ signature synthetics stuffed in them, taped together in his closet. .

The Brothers were smart, smart enough to manage 40,000 men across the globe. And that meant people they trusted, like Yoo, were smart. And being smart meant two things. They didn’t get into turf wars and they didn’t kill, even when anyone else would have. They had no competition that would dare move on them. But they’d also never killed their own before. Waters knew he was missing something. 

The DEA had eyes on the weigh stations and docks, and every agency involved in taking down the Brothers had learned about the tea trick from mules they’d caught at airports. They’d tracked down Yoo from apprehending enough repeat mules who described the same face or name and were willing to squeal. Finally, a trucker led them to Yoo’s stockpile, and Waters’ team took credit for the biggest drug bust in history. 

But every month shipments still made it through, and the Brothers only needed one out of fifteen to recoup their losses. It was the first week of February. Yoo should’ve had the drugs scattered to more than half the dealers in the city. In the last texts they’d tapped, Yoo had sounded desperate to move his latest shipment. But there it was in his room, unsold.

By now the snow was falling hard and fast, blotting out the gaggle of cop cars. Bringing that much of his own product into a residence? Yoo used safehouses and drop off points to move merchandise. There must’ve been a reason why he’d been holding onto it. Desperation after the warehouse bust? Possibly. 

Waters reached the sidewalk where he parked his beat up Chevy, and there was a lull in the whipping wind. On the other side of the street, he noticed a woman who’d been idling outside the apartment with the other tenants. She was standing alone at the intersection wearing a large fur, but her legs were almost totally exposed. He thought she must’ve been shivering for ten minutes since she left. Just as he was about to say something, a black sedan pulled up and she practically jumped inside.  

As the car faded from view, Waters tried to go over the facts of the case again. But something pulled his mind away from any theories he might have had. The glimpse he caught of the driver. Sunglasses in the snowstorm. A gold ring glinting off the hand on the wheel.

And in the backseat with the woman, for a moment, another man made eye contact with him. Thin, Asian, middle-aged. From this distance there was something undeniably familiar about the shape of his head, the cut of his hair. Agent Waters thought about the chase. But he knew his mind was getting the better of him. He’d wait for what they pulled from the phones.

***

In the car, Brother Three took Zoe’s slender hand in his thick ringed fingers. He thought he’d take her on those private flights to Hong Kong or Macau soon. She deserved it for giving up Yoo’s address. Unfortunate, but necessary after Johnny got careless. The fact that Zoe worked at all showed how careless he’d gotten. He’d have to commend Gao for coming up with the idea. Business was getting too risky in North America anyway. He’d bring up Australia with the Brothers when they next met. 

“I know why you had to do it,” Zoe said. “But was there any pain?”

Brother Three could see what it had meant to her to be Yoo’s woman.

Yoo was right. The Brothers had been planning to abandon him. The writing was on the wall, the market was too tight. The hoarding was incidental to the decision. Working under the Brothers had only cracked Yoo’s ego open. The stockpile had just been a rebellious response. A grasping for authority.

“No. No pain,” he half-lied. He had no clue what poison had been chosen, but they were always quiet. And Brother Three figured quiet things never caused much pain.

— Lin Kai is an Indonesian writer currently working in New York. His work is inspired by his interests in religion, philosophy and history, and he has taken up art as a hobby. He can be reached on Twitter @LinJKai and Instagram @lin_kai_art. He also publishes short fiction at nicholaslin.substack.com