Wise man say, do not speak until your thoughts are worthy of being heard, said Ji-Cheng dully, settling back down into his tub.
How can my father be alive!? she cried. Ive been to his grave! I I helped choose the words for the stone...
You are here, are you not? asked Ji-Cheng.
How many people do you think know of this place? he continued.
There are at most five or six people who would know of this place and know of me and know of my password. One of those people died in my arms from a gunshot. Two of them died slow, painful deaths years ago, even more wretched, pitiable creatures than I. Which I believes leaves your father, Lady Sang, and my niece. So how came you to this place?
I dont know...
We must assume that if the dead do not speak and I think they do not that you received your information from a living person. Did Lady Sang or Miss Kim-na tell you of me or of this place?
Then there is only one conclusion, said Ji-Cheng, and that is
that my father is alive, said Caitlyn softly, her eyes brimming with tears.
Tell me, girl, what did he tell you?
I dont know, said Caitlyn, sniffling. All I heard there was a voice, and it told me to come here that it didnt have much time. She traced through her memory. It was so wispy, so faint, but could that voice have been the one that sang to her when she was a child? She tried to connect the two, glancing down at the table. The puzzle there had so many missing pieces, so many gaps, so much critical information left out.
There came a creaking and a grinding noise, and the two of them looked up. The creaking stopped, and out from around the corner popped Yu Kim-na, human for just a moment before she reverted to form.
So, yo, you guys havin a fun time o what? she said, brushing off her skirt.
Hello, Kim-na, said the blob.
Dayumn, I hate comin down that thing, yo, she grumbled. Why cant Auntie Sang make it big nuff to fit a centaurs yellow ass?
So what brings you here? asked Ji-Cheng.
Yo, unca Ji, this chick gots a problem, she said. Them guys were chasin her? Theys upstairs. Auntie Sang sent me down here to warn youse.
Caitlyn choked. They theyre here?
They got these nasty-ass dog-men and lights and suits and sunglasses and theyre all men-in-black with they guns coming up to Auntie Sang and theyre like, Wheres the girl? and shes like, I dont know, bitch, and theyre all like, We knows you gots her, and Aunties like, Suck my ass, niggah, and she locks the door and sends me the hell down that fickin dumbwaiter to warn youse.
Caitlyns jaw dropped.
Ji-Cheng nodded. Miss Camberley, I believe our discussion has been cut short. Kim-na, if you would, please show Miss Camberley out the back way
I aint trudgin these hooves through no sewers! complained Kim-na. I paid like a hunner-fifty on this damn pedicure!
Ji-Cheng smiled at her. If you would like to stay, youre welcome to help hold off the men with guns, he said.
His niece glowered. Unca Ji, you suck, she said.
Yes, yes I do, he grinned.
* * *
The girl was gone. He was alone now, in the place hed created for himself, left to his own private little hell when they came. There was a massive explosion on the far side of the room, and half the ceiling came down, crushing the refrigerator. It didnt matter: That old machine had cost them far more than a newer model would.
He sighed. It was a shame that he wouldnt be able to help replace the damaged floor. When he was younger well, when he was younger, he would have been preoccupied with his work, but Sang, sweet Sang, she didnt deserve this mess. Poor girl had only ever wanted to start a small restaurant, get married, and live happily ever after. He shouldve paid more attention to her when he was human. Live and learn.
Creatures fell through the hole. Nasty, ugly things. Kim-na had been wrong: These werent so much half dog as they were half wolf, and it looked like whatever had been human about them had been forcibly removed. These were little more than intelligent killing machines now.
If you wouldnt mind, could you please grab a broom and sweep up that mess? he asked calmly.
The wolf-men growled. He eyed them, not making eye contact. He wished he could have called them werewolves, but he knew a few werewolves, and these were far too monstrous to qualify. They were once surely men, but they looked as though someone had tried to turn them into werewolves by vivisection, attaching a bit of fur here, stretching the jaw there, replacing bits and pieces, trying to play God without even having the first clue about how to do it right. He sighed again, feeling sorry for the poor louts: They probably never knew what happened to them, but theyd probably suffered.
A man descended on a rope, and Kim-na had been right. Black suit, black tie, black sunglasses, a gun... it was a shame he didnt have the fedora to match. Some people had no sense of style.
Wheres the girl? he said.
She left, said Ji-Cheng, looking down and placing another puzzle piece.
Listen, freak, I dont have time for you. Which way did she go?
Which way does anyone go? asked Ji-Cheng wistfully. A mans path in life is determined but by his own choices.
Dont get Confucius on me, freak, said the man as one of his allies slid down the rope. We have a hostage. The woman. He pointed up, and a third man held Sangs hands behind her back with one of his hands and held a gun to her head with the other. Duct tape covered her mouth, and her eyes varied between terrified and angry.
I suggest you let her go, said Ji-Cheng helpfully. I wont be held responsible if you dont.
Im not asking you again! Wheres the goddamn girl? said the man, pointing a gun at him. The wolf-men growled.
She is not here, said Ji-Cheng, looking up at him. She is beyond your reach. And you will not get what you seek.
In a flash, Ji-Cheng flew from the tub, and the man was silenced. The wolf-men were silenced. Their comrade never had a chance to speak. Translucent pink flesh surrounded them, and it stretched out from Ji-Chengs waist, who was staring upward through the hole, an angry frown of lizard teeth spreading across his face.
The man above stared down into the dimly-lit pit. The faces and bodies of his companions were twisted in looks of horror and pain, and as he watched, their skin began to dissolve. He blinked twice and bolted, pushing his hostage over the edge.
Ji-Cheng caught her gently in his arms. Im sorry for the commotion, he said, pulling off the duct tape covering her mouth.
Eeyow! Ugh! Ohh... Are you alright? asked Sang.
Im fine, my dear. Did they harm you at all?
No. But, oh, the store... She winced, rubbing her face.
Im sorry about that, he said. In my younger years...
She glanced over at the dissolving bodies under the blob beside them. Poor bastards, she said.
Yes, well, Id feel sorry for them, but they were evil.
She eyed him darkly.
You know Im better with good and evil than I once was, Sang. Would you rather Id capitulated?
No, she said. But still... she looked away. Sometimes I wish I could pick what you turned into. Why of all things an amoeba-lizard? It could have been a mammal... And you will have terrible indigestion now too for at least a month
Do you know that Kevin is alive? said Ji-Cheng.
No ! You joke! she said, her eyes wide.
That girl is his daughter.
Amazing, said Sang. But this means do you think Kim-na will be safe?
He chuckled. The girl is indestructible. She has money. And she knows how to find us again if she needs us but shes wanted an excuse to leave for a while now anyway. Shame it turned out to be this. But you do know what this means, he said.
Sang nodded soberly. I will begin packing, love.
Good girl, said Ji-Cheng. So where shall we go? Fiji? Tahiti? Australia?
I have a sister in Manila, she replied, shrugging.
As good a choice as any, he said. For once, I dont want to be involved when the crazy goes down. I may be a monster, but at least I still have my mind and Im not dead. Yet.
He lowered his wife to the floor and sighed, looking up at the hole. Kevin, Caity, Kim-na good luck, all of you, he said. Youre going to need it.