A PERFECT ASSASSIN: The White Ming Chronicles

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PROLOGUE       http://youtu.be/ybOQ4LrFPYY

Born from purity into turmoil and sifted from solace into torment,

our minds scream, our hearts long and somewhere, lost in haze, we disappear.

Words drift from shadows, and memories torture the senses.

It is a battle within and a haunting without.

The past patronizes and our guarded will strangles.

We become lost far in the distance, a memory of innocence and belief,

into a world without center.

A world lost in madness.

Enemies and friends become the same,

caring forms into hate and dreams become destruction.

‘This is life’ sighs the mid of night ‘and it will only get harder…’

THEY WERE the words of her late grandmother. Harsh words written who knew when. The young girl carefully folded the worn paper keepsake that had stood up to so many readings already. Titled “When Midnight Sighs”, the words spoke to the child. Sadly, she already understood their energy. Today they would lead her toward a path unknown. Her tiny, tattered soul would change her battered existence.

Dead now, her grandmother had been the one person to show the girl love and acceptance. Without her grandmother, life had become unendurable. The world outside appeared haunted and empty, but no less so than her present life. It was time.

There wasn’t much to pack, only what she could carry. At eleven years old, she would take control of her life. Standing at the townhouse door, she glanced about. The shabby rental paralleled her sad childhood. There were no songs of birds. No glistening sun. No rich air, thick with fragrant aroma. Such a fairy tale had never been her world. Until today, this had been her home, shared only with her bitter mother.

Carefully closing the door behind her, she began to walk. Her steps were steady. And with each foot she laid against the pavement, she felt her providence begin to turn.

CHAPTER 1 

          “Christ!”  Detective Gethers snapped his gaze away from the monitor.

Over his shoulder, his partner of eight years, Detective Handle, reacted in similar fashion.  “Holy shit.”  Detective Handle’s eyes did not sway from the image moving in slow motion on the screen.  Though he was a seasoned detective, his pulse raced as he watched the slender, Caucasian woman, attacking a man with cat-like precision.  The man was twice her size, yet she reduced him to a bloody massacred mess in moments without any weapons.

Standing next to Handle and Gethers, CIA Agent Paul Catalina watched the video monitor intently.  He glanced at his partner, standing silently against the far wall of the low-lit room.

“This is one of three surveillance tapes we confiscated from recent murder investigations pending in this division,” said Catalina.

Confiscated?” Gethers looked at him sharply.  “We haven’t seen these before.”

***

          Everyone remained silent as they viewed the surveillance tapes.  Gether’s rubbed his hands together.  Handle’s mouth gaped.  The woman was so…elegant.  Her style, her manner, her movements.  Both detectives had seen brutal violence before, but they’d never witnessed anything so haunting and with such conflicting image.  Beautiful femininity and such deadly power.

On the third and most recent tape, the woman entered an office followed by a large, muscular man.  They found a man behind a desk; he stood and moved toward her.  Though there was no sound on the video, it was clear that he begged for his life.

In a flash, the woman’s hand went for his throat, nearly knocking him off his feet as she pushed him backward.  He crashed onto the desk and lay there, pinned, while she spoke to him.  This was only an eerie pause in the storm.

The woman hauled him back onto his feet, then landed a roundhouse kick on his face.  He teetered backward, another swift kick to the chest sent him to the floor.  Scrambling to his feet, he tried to flee but with little success, though the appeared to enjoy his feeble attempt.  Her foot caught his, sending him once more to the ground.  She straddled his wriggling body, bent over and grabbed him by the hair, then slammed his face into the floor three times.  Then, she stepped back and adjusted her black leather gloves.  In absolute agony, the man made another pitiful attempt to get up.  The woman buried her boot twice in his abdomen, and he rolled over onto his back, bleeding profusely and convulsing in pain.

Handle’s fingers went to cover his mouth.  He felt sick at the thought of seeing anymore.  “Jesus,” he whispered.

On the video, the woman held her hand out toward her accomplice, who gave her a handgun.  She hesitated, surveying her victim, then brought the gun around and aimed.  The man did nothing, but await his inevitable fate.

***

          “The tapes,” explained Catalina, “coincide with a case we’ve been developing for some time.”

“Isn’t this stuff a little minuscule for you guys?” Detective Handle asked.  He wondered why the CIA would involve local law enforcement.  Something didn’t feel right.

“Not necessarily.  Things aren’t as simple as they appear.”  Special Agent Catalina tapped the video monitor.  “Known as Anastasia Ming, or the White Ming, this woman is very tightly tied to the Triads.  Meaning Chinese Mafia, gentlemen.  One of the fastest growing threats to national security.  She’s five foot nine and not yet twenty-five years old.”

Gethers laughed.  “She doesn’t look Chinese.”

Exactly.”  Catalina went over to the room’s small table and pulled out a chair, allowing it to scrape loudly across the floor.  He took a seat.  “That would be what makes this particular sect, known only as the Society, difficult to track.  To the untrained eye, they look and perform just like the Italian Mafia.  Hell, even their victims think they’re the Mafia.  Problem is, they’re far more brutal and greedy than the Italians.”

Handle followed and sat down across from him.  He shook his head, “Something still doesn’t add up.  These aren’t our cases.”  He motioned toward the monitor.  “We don’t know this girl.  So why, when you already seem to have the answers and all the evidence you need, would you involve us?”

Catalina said nothing, his face serious.  Not even a muscle twitched.

The detective tried another angle.  “Do you have her in custody?”

“No.  You’ll arrange that.”

“For prosecution?”

“Yes.”

Scratching the back of his neck,  Handle glanced around the small room, as frustration began to mount.  “And the point to all this is?”

“You’re going to take down the entire Triad sect in Chicago.  It’s one of the strongest in this country.  Take out the leader and you’ll get your prosecution.”

On the other side of the room, Gethers leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.  “Whoever he is, he’ll be very well guarded and virtually untouchable.  There’ll never be enough evidence to get a prosecution.”

Catalina grinned.  “Your DA will have everything he needs once you capture her.”

Gether’s chuckled sarcastically  “You aren’t assuming she’ll turn into a state’s witness?”

Catalina looked sharply at the detective.  “We don’t assume anything.”

The room fell silent again.  A game seemed to be in motion.

“Why us?” Handle asked once more.

“We did background checks.  You guys came up the winners,” Catalina replied.

“Winning” was not the word Handle would have used to describe how he felt.  “You mean clean?”

“Yes.”

“Why would we handle the arrests?  Why not do it yourselves?  You obviously have everything you need.”

“For reasons we’re not prepared to discuss, we feel we need to distance ourselves from the arrests.  We’re handing you accolades on a platter, gentlemen.”

Detective Handle thought for a moment.  Then, he flipped open his cell phone.  “Who would I contact at the CIA to verify all this?”

Catalina pulled out a business card from his wallet and laid it on the table between them.  “You can call this number, or you can call information and get the number for Langley yourself.  They can verify my credentials instantly.  Even fax over photo ID if you really need it to make your decision.”

Handle glanced at the card.  It had the CIA insignia, contact information, the agent’s name and title.  He shrugged.  “Okay  Do we have a choice?”

Catalina did not respond.

The paused image of Anastasia Ming watched them through a hazed, frozen gaze, Handle thought for a moment.  “Bringing her in is going to be the difficult part, isn’t it?”

“For you, yes.”  For Catalina, the difficulty would be trying to coerce her into cooperating.

With a deep sigh, Handle turned to Gethers, who concurred with a nod.

They would prepare to capture the deadly assassin, the beautiful enigma known as the White Ming.

CHAPTER 2

The spacious room was illuminated only by the eerie glow of candlelight with traditional Asian décor of bold color, ivory, porcelain and bamboo giving a sense of mystic purpose and perfect balance.  The scent of incense rose from a small altar: Chinese music drifted from somewhere undetectable – soft, haunting and hypnotic, a lulling resonance of flutes, drones, moon guitar, and zheng.

Standing in the center of the room, was Anastasia Ming. Wearing black-Lycra shorts and a matching top, she posed with her legs together, her eyes closed, her arms outstretched and her palms raised. No stress showed on her face, no tension in her lithe muscles.  Her breathing was slow and shallow.  Without movement amidst the warmth and the scent, the melody took her away; away from her body and that moment, away from the physical and into the mystical.  She could access a plane that few humans could.  In that place, she would sit with ancient Guides and Teachers.  They would lead her and empower her.

Some time had passed in deep meditation before soft chimes over the doorway brought Anastasia’s spirit back to her body and she took a deep breath.  With eyes still closed, she greeted her visitor in Chinese.  The Asian woman of similar age and physical stature greeted her in kind.  Anastasia opened her eyes staring straight ahead as her gaze rested on the altar.  Her visitor respectfully waited.

Purposely slow, Anastasia brought her arms down to her sides, and her whole form relaxed back into the pull of the Earth.  She turned to her sister, Rian.  Again they spoke in Chinese.  Anastasia’s tone was serene, but her sister responded with urgency.  Finally, with a wave of her hand, Anastasia indicated that the discussion was over, turning her eyes back to the altar as Rian turned to leave.

Stopping at the doorway, Rian turned back and said, “I trust you.”

Anastasia’s green eyes saw more than fire and stone on the altar. “I can’t save everyone in this family. I wish I could.”

Without another word, Rian left. Anastasia knew it would be a long time before she saw her sister again, in fact, it was very possibly the last time.  Before the night ended, Rian would have packed her things and would be gone.

***

          With eyes closed, Anastasia slowly paced through several combat maneuvers in a circular motion.  With exquisite posture and poise, her deadly skill was display of art, a graceful Tai Chi exercise.  Only the trained in serious hand-to-hand combat maneuvers would have recognized the aggression in the deliberate movements.

Careful to avoid the chimes hanging over the door, a new guest silently entered and Anastasia stopped.  Cautiously, another Asian visitor moved closer.  Still in a striking pose, with her eyes closed, Anastasia turned toward him. He stopped only a few feet from her.

The moments seemed to expand as they paused.

Then, with incredible speed, Anastasia struck out, taking the man’s wrist in her right hand and extending her right foot behind his leg. Her eyes opened. Pain shot through his arm as she twisted his hand back and used her body thrust him backward onto the floor, preventing any resistance. She landed on top of him, their faces barely inches apart, and released his wrist.

Vingar Ming was her brother in name only, and their bond extended far past that.

Anastasia softly touched Vingar’s brow with one finger, tracing down his nose and over his lips. As his tongue came out to meet it, he grabbed her left wrist and swung his opposite arm, catching her in the neck and sending her over onto her back.

Before he could straddle her, she threw both legs up and caught Vingar’s neck, flipping him over her and onto his back once more. Again, she was on top.

“You are good,” he said with a grin.

Brushing back his shoulder-length, raven hair, she kissed him, and Vingar returned it. Pulling his robe open, she exposed his bare chest and black-silk boxer shorts. She ran her nails down his muscular frame and removed his clothing, then, she removed her own clothing as he watched.

Pulling him to his feet, she covered him in wet kisses as the soft glow of the candles flickered over their exposed flesh.

He took her by the throat, just under the chin, and moved her backward toward the wall with force. Vingar kissed her with passion, and then he entered her, causing Anastasia to moan with satisfaction.

Pressed to the wall, Anastasia moved with the gentle rhythm of her lover. She would remember tonight. It would be their last. It had already been decided.

***

          His body pulsing with tension, Detective Handle couldn’t take anymore paperwork or computer data for today, not at such a late hour.  It had been a long day. The division was quiet and mostly empty. He rubbed his hands across his face and through his hair, staring blankly at the papers strewn across his desk. It was so important to know everything about Anastasia Ming before their move tomorrow. Otherwise, someone’s life would end in the process.

He continued to rub his brow. The whole scenario felt so surreal.

Handle’s cell phone rang.  It was Detective Gether’s.

“Hey,” said Handle. “I’m still at the office.”

“Holy shit, buddy.  We need our rest.  It’s a big day tomorrow.”

“No kidding.  So many men, so much planning, all the artillery. And all for one woman.”

“Yeah,” Gether’s sighed. “Our orders are not to injure her, but it won’t be easy without getting hurt ourselves.”

It seemed as though they were conspiring to capture some mythical, deadly creature, something they had all read and heard about and maybe even seen pictures of. Her existence had always been in question, until recently.  Now, they were ready to capture the White Ming.

***

          With legs crossed, Anastasia sat alone in the meditation room, staring at a candle as it burned before her.

Her long fingers deliberately toyed with the flame, the room’s only illumination, passing back and forth through it. A blend of chants rang through her head, though they did nothing to stop the welling of her memory.

          Barely coherent and hardly able to stand thanks to the alcohol, Anastasia’s mother lashed out at her, delivering a blow hard enough not just to knock her off her feet, but to send her sprawling backward across the floor. Perhaps that would get Anastasia to keep it coming at a steady pace. If she had no use as a servant, she had no use at all.

Her fingers kept their even rhythm, back and forth, back and forth. The flame danced, never minding her constant interruptions.

The chimes announced one more visitor.  Anastasia looked up.  “Father.”

“I have come to say goodnight,” said the elderly Asian man affectionately.

***

          Though late, it wasn’t unusual for Judge Conner’s chambers to be occupied. Paul Catalina sat comfortably across from her as she peered at him from behind her desk. The legalities of the set-up had just been finalized. Catalina delivered the detailed outline for the pending arrest with the list of charges and evidence. It was now up to Judge Connor to sign the warrant.

Naturally it was necessary that they allowed Anastasia Ming no chance of escape.  Their seizure and capture had to go perfectly because so much was at stake.

Everything and everyone had been scrutinized and investigated for months; judges, prosecutors, detectives and even jurors. The Triads had very powerful connections that could easily have rescued someone like Anastasia from any situation for the right price.

“If she’s as elusive as you say she is,” wondered the judge, “what makes you think she’ll appear at the club you’ve targeted?”

“She will.” Catalina had studied his target.  There were few, if any places to catch up with her. This club appeared to be the only public venue she frequented. So it was simply a matter of waiting. “We almost had her six months ago.”

He sighed while pulling at the collar of his white shirt, trying to loosen his tie with weary fingers. Like most government agents, he was ordinary in appearance, and rarely wore a suit.  He did so this evening simply out of respect for his meeting with Her Honor.

“I had no idea,” said the judge, leaning on her desk, appearing interested. “What actually happened?”

Regardless of the macabre reality of Anastasia, any tale of her immediately drew everyone in.

“It was pure fluke. We were after some intel on one of our profiles. When we made the move on the target, we found her standing over his freshly murdered body. Four agents flanked her in a closed room and unbelievably, she escaped. She wound up in the basement of the building, working a chain off an emergency-exit door.  One of our guys found her and thought he had her cornered. Before he knew what hit him, she had his gun.”

“My God,” sighed the judge. “I’m afraid to hear what she did to him.”

“That’s just it. All she did was pin him against the wall by the throat and stare at him. Smiling, too. Freaked him right out. He’s still weird about it.”

“So, he’s alive?”

“Yeah. She slammed his head into the wall and knocked him out, then she left the building. We almost had her outside. I had a visual on her. She came flying out of the rear entrance and moved like the wind, got on a Ninja motorbike and disappeared. We tried following, but she moved at an unreal speed. We lost her in an underground parking lot.” He nodded in thought. “I know. Why didn’t she kill him? It’s the question we’ve all been asking ourselves since.”

“It would’ve been so like her.”

Catalina smiled, his fingers gently brushing over his lips as he thought. “Brains, brawn and beauty. She’s a gem. But killing a cop, now that’s different. Killing a cop isn’t average, and neither is she. She knew it would have unleashed a truck load of attention on her.” He smiled. “She didn’t kill him because she didn’t have to, and his occupation made him important enough not to.”

With a sigh, Judge Conners sat back in her chair, propping her arm up and leaning her head against it. “And you still feel confident about this endeavor?”

“Absolutely.” Catalina had trained his mind for months. There could be no fear, no negativity. This time, they were ready. Anastasia Ming was a commodity that would be stolen from the Triads.

***

          Sitting on the edge of her futon, legs crossed, Anastasia stared straight ahead as the morning sun began to break into her bedroom. She worked at slowing her breathing. Today, more than any other day, she needed calm. But the memories fought hard, and came from so far back. Flashes of an unconventional life.

She had tried so hard to carry the full glass across the room without spilling a drop, then carefully placed it on the tray next to the sofa where her mother slumped. As her mother reached out an unsteady but eager hand to grab the drink, the entire tray crashed onto the carpet.

          In slow motion, Anastasia watched the mess fall all around her: cigarette packs, used butts, a napkin, apple skins and a core. The last item to drop was the paring knife.  She watched as it turned gently in the air and landed point first on the top of her left foot.

          The flash of pain rapidly radiated up her leg and into her hip.

          On the floor, chasing the items that had spilled, her mother noticed her staring at the wound. Her mother tried to grab the knife and stumbled, falling flat instead and forcing the knife in even deeper. When Anastasia screamed in pain, her mother jolted backward, slurring an apology.

          Taking gentle breaths, Anastasia reached down and, with effort, pulled out the paring knife. Blood instantly ran out in a stream over the arch of her foot and onto the carpet.

          Her mother, now back on the sofa, picked up the fallen glass and held it over her open mouth, searching for any last drops of liquid.

Anastasia dropped the knife, and then fell to her knees. She was dizzy and suddenly wanted to rest right there on the carpet, beside her own red puddle.

Opening her eyes to the sunlight, her left hand traced over the still-obvious scar on the top of her left foot. It often ached as a reminder, a physical memento of what she had left and why.  Of the war she had not understood. That scar blazed now in honor of the war she now chose, the one that she did understand.

Anastasia took another deep breath, her control steady and strong. It was time to begin her day.

CHAPTER 3

Behind the scenes, the club, buzzed. Detectives and SWAT officers had the entire building under surveillance in a cloak of secrecy. Primed and ready, all they had to do was wait and were prepared to do so for days, weeks, even months if need be. Anastasia, the Triad enforcer, was going down.

But after six hours, the excitement of the chase dulled. The officers adjusted their ear pieces, rubbed their foreheads in weariness; their eyes were heavy. They changed positions as their muscles stiffened and their attentions wandered. Many of the drifting minds recalled the weeks of preparation. The meetings and planning. Their tactics had to be precise. The White Ming, they had all been advised, was not an ordinary target and they could not let their guards down because of her gender. She was fast, cunning and dangerous, an elusive martial tactics expert.

The sad reality was that her life had greater value than any of the dedicated men being used to capture her. Because of this they had been advised not to injure her unless necessary, and under no circumstance were they to kill her in fact, they had been ordered not to approach Anastasia with any loaded weapons. With her exceptional talent for hand-to-hand combat, that would have been suicidal. Instead, they would carry unloaded weapons and disarm her to the best of their ability. There would be snipers at almost every angle to prevent mishap. Since the club was a social venue for her, they suspected Anastasia would not be armed and detectors were secretly set up at the doorways to be sure she wasn’t carrying a weapon inside.

The waiting continued. Time snailed along. Tick. Tick. Tick. Yawns made the rounds. The officers waited and waited. No one really expected her to show up on the first day of surveillance anyway. They waited some more. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The ear pieces crackled with life. “This might be her.”

A black Porsche Boxter purred up to the curb in front of the club and a woman, who appeared to fit their profile, emerged. Stepping delicately from the sports car, swinging her dark mane back over her shoulder, she wore slender, black pants, high-heeled black boots and a barely buttoned black-silk shirt that swayed when she moved.

“Shit,” the watcher breathed, “it’s her.”

The officers all tightened their muscles suddenly in anticipation; all interest was back.

“Confirm.”  It was a request of one of the officers on ground nearby the club.

The woman walked around the car and paused at the entrance of the club. Turning back, she scanned the surrounding buildings. She hesitated, then, turned and entered.

“Confirmed,” crackled the rooftop surveillance officer. “It’s Ming. Our target’s just arrived.”

“Stand by,” informed the commanding officer. Perched atop a nearby building with the surveillance officer, they faced the club entrance.

The commanding officer looked over at the surveillance officer who maintained steady vision through a scope. “Why do you think she hesitated?”

He shrugged, “She couldn’t know.”

Within seconds, the ground confirmation came in on the entrance metal detectors from one of the officers there. “She’s clean.”  Anastasia wasindeed unarmed.

“Good. With any luck, we’ll get through this without fatalities,” said the commanding officer.

***

          Anastasia moved easily amongst the club’s patrons and approached the bar. After exchanging a few words with the bartender, she approached a table of men and one woman. They were allCaucasian.

Anastasia nodded at them in greeting and took a seat at the table. A waitress arrived with a glass of water for her with lemon slices on the side.

“Anything going on today?” asked one of the men at the table.

Anastasia shook her head nonchalently.  She squeezed a lemon wedge into the water, then licked her fingers.

The woman next to Anastasia eyed her up and down appreciatively, then smiled. Anastasia smiled sweetly in return. It was a common flirtation between beautiful women.

“Enzo said the guy you visited the other day was begging like a girl,” said one of the men.

Anastasia just looked at him.

“Does it ever work with you, negotiating?” he continued.

“No.”

He nodded with a laugh.

“I’d like to go on a job with you.”

“It’s just a job,Peitro,” she said, “nothing exciting.”

He laughed more loudly this time.  “Tell me, how do you do it? You’re so….petite.” He emphasized the last word for effect. “Is it theAsian thing?”

To anybody looking from the outside, it all seemed so ordinary. On a nearby stage, a young, tired-looking redhead writhed on the floor, wearing nothing but a thong and big, fake smile. No one at the table paid any attention to her, as if she were just another piece of furniture.

Anastasia was amused. She took another sip from her glass and stood. “Yes, Pietro, it’sAsian magic.” Laughter went around the table. “Pray Inever get your name.”

There was more laughter.

“Something has come up,” Anastasia said, “and unfortunately I have to leave right now.”

She walked calmly toward the main entrance but, stopped halfway there then turned to scan the noisy bar. People mulled about and music pounded, but to her, it was all a blur. Something else was happening.

Calmly and stealthily, she headed toward the stage and veered off to the left, disappearing behind it.

The officers inside the club reported the entire maneuver while trying to follow inconspicuously. It wasn’t easy. The club was busy and they were trying not to create a full chase. The entire team were hoping for a smooth apprehention of the White Ming though now, it had started to appear unlikely. Once behind the curtain, they could not regain their visual. She had disappeared. “She’s gone,” reported one of the officers into his walkie-talkie, “we’ve lost visual inside.”

There were three possible rear exits. All were covered from outside. Surveillance officers scanned the outside perimeter of the club withurgency. “No sign of her outside,” one officer reported over the walkie-talkies.

“Somebody find her, fast!” yelled the commanding officer from his post.

Anastasia placed her hands gently on the door’s surface and paused, then went ahead and pushed it open and that was when, the game began.

Two SWAT members came at her quickly. She took a few steps back inside and slammed the door, catching one officer’s arm and breaking it, instantly. Throwing the door wide open once more, she took out the other officer with it, sending him back into the wall, then kicked the guy with the broken arm, causing him to tumble backward several feet. She spun to meet the one she’d hit with the door as he recovered, delivering a powerful kick to his abdomen and several fierce, lightening-fast jabs to his face. He landed, disoriented, back against the brick wall, and she began to run down the alley.

But two more SWAT officers appeared at the end as she neared. One pulled back, aiming his rifle at her, while the other officer rushed her in hopes of grabbing Anastasia.  Without slowing her pace, she ran at the wall and up it, then did a back flip over the approaching officer. Landing behind him, she delivered several blows with her leg into his chest and finally sent him tumbling into the officer with the rifle and then kept running. Above, a helicopter appeared as she reached a rear entrance on the opposing building and pulled it open; shots rang out as the door slammed behind her.

Within seconds, three more officers were after her and she was faced with a decision: downstairs or up? Before her, stairs loomed in both directions.

Then Anastasia looked up. It was an industrial ceiling with metal support beams. She smiled happy with her new option and up she went up positioned flat with her back against the ceiling, ready to handle them if they saw her.

The officers passed through without a clue.

Anastasia dropped from the ceiling directly over the entrance and ran outside again, where she moved quickly along the rear of the building. The helicopter had her immediately in it’s sight again, and as she turned down the next alley, she found four more SWAT members headed directly for her. She turned back and ran once more.

Ignoring the bullets that ricocheted around her as she fled, Anastasia concentrated on getting as far away as she could as fast as possible. Taking a right into another alley, she used a fire escape rail to spider up the building’s side and disappear inside through a window.

***

          Everyone on watch held their breath.

Two helicopters now swarmed over the old apartment building where Anastasia hid, waiting for any sign of her back on the street. The SWAT team was so far behind, she could have been anywhere and they wouldn’t have known it. Still, they searched for her; several officers entered the building, dispersing in different directions.

“Hold all positions,” crackled the general command into Billy Spencer’s ear piece. One of the more-recent additions to the SWAT unit, he was several blocks from where the arrest was expected to go down. Now, excited by the prospect that the action could turn his way, he began to feel restless. He paced back and forth, waiting for the command to move.

***

          Anastasia’s feet moved faster than her thoughts. She followed one hallway after another, and ran up staircase after staircase. With ease, she maneuvered any obstacle that got in her way: garbage bags piled on a landing, toys scattered on a couple of steps and even bicycle that someone had left positioned oddly on the steps rather than a landing.

Finally, she made it to the roof and exploded out into the daylight. The helicopters looming above, snipers following her from distant rooftops, but she continued her steady pace and without hesitation, dove from the roof headlong.  She wouldn’t make it to the top of the next building, but that wasn’t her goal. Instead, she managed to catch a metal fire escape on its side, and then disappeared indoors once more.

Pausing at a window overlooking the main street, she laughed as she located her car, which she parked down there only half an hour earlier. She could also see a stream of SWAT officer’s storming into the front of the building she was in, with more positioned sporadically down the block.

“It’s time to go back outside,” she said to herself and scanned the apartment hallway hoping to find a way to quickly break the window. There wasn’t much to choose from with the exception of small red tricycle at the opposite end of the hall. “Perfect.  That should draw their attention.”

Anastasia ran the hallway, grabbed the trike and headed back to the window at full run, once close she hurled the trike at the window ahead of herself. The small bike plummeted to the street with a crash creating quite a spectacle. And then, Anastasia followed, propelling her slender frame through the window and the thick branches of an old, nearby tree and slid quickly down its trunk.

“Now I need to head back to my car. Chances of me making it?” Anastasia laughed inside. There was nothing stressful about this chase for her. She knew how it would end from the very beginning. So, when she hit the ground, Anastasia started in a full run once more.

***

          Spencer’s head came up at the noise of the crash. His heart beat faster when he saw Anastasia slide to the street and run in his direction.

“She’s coming right at me!” he reported to his superiors. “Officer Spencer moving in.”

He began to run, but he faltered, causing him to plunging roughly into the brick wall of the building he used as cover. His headset crackled, as he steadied himself and watched Anastasia veering away from him. He grabbed his handgun and took off in eager pursuit.

***

          “Spencer confirm, is your gun clean?” requested the rooftop surveillance officer.

No response.

“Repeat, Spencer, is your gun clean?”

The surveillance officer turned to his superior, “I don’t think his headset is receiving, sir.”

The commanding officer watched the drama as it moved in their direction, straight down the main street, a look of horror on his face. Anastasia appeared to be headed for her car. “Try again.”

“Spencer, confirm. Do not approach target with loaded gun. Again, confirm,” Nothing.

The superior rubbed his upper lip nervously. “Fuck!”

This young officer could not be murdered in cold blood in the middle of the street. For all their planning and manpower, where were the backups? From each direction more SWAT officers moved in, but it was becoming obvious that Spencer would catch Anastasia first. “Get someone to stop him,” yelled the commanding officer.

“Red flag. Stop Spencer, he may be loaded. Repeat. Stop Spencer before he reaches the target.” The command went out to all officer earpieces.

***

          It was too late. Spencer tagged her from behind, and she tumbled. He landed over her, his handgun confidently poised in front of her face. “Don’t move!”

But she did and it was lightning quick. All Spencer could remember later was her smile. Her hands lunged at the gun and her feet came up, catching him on the chest and sending him flying over her, and onto his back. Before he knew what hit him, Anastasia held the gun inches from his face. Her smile was still there.

Billy Spencer froze. Everyone watching held their breath. Reinforcements were only feet away.

Click. The chamber was empty.

Instantly, six SWAT officers with rifles, cocked and loaded surrounded them. Spencer closed his eyes in relief.

“Do not move,” one of them ordered as another took the handgun away from her. Anastasia stepped back from Billy Spencer and held her hands out helplessly, though her piercing eyes never left him.

A SWAT officer placed cuffs over her delicate wrists. For the many men surrounding her, it was nearly impossible to believe that this woman was the monster they’d been after. She looked frail and soft now. If they hadn’t witnessed her ability firsthand, it would have been inconceivable.

Escorted to a waiting SWAT cube van, Anastasia said nothing and easily endured all the stares, sneers, comments and shoves. Inside, she waited patiently.

Gethers and Handle approached the van and peered inside. There she was, staring back at them, her emerald eyes cold and emotionless. She was beautifully poised despite her recent misadventure. They had their mystical creature, the enigma the CIA wanted so badly: Anastasia, the White Ming. And regardless of her past, she was a marvel.

CHAPTER 4

          Small fingers, frail and dainty, had pressed the yellowing ivory keys, pushing out a sad melody. As she’d drawn in each labored breath, the sounds had patiently melted together. With each command of the musical keys, the old upright piano had chimed out an empty song that spoke to no soul, but her own. She’d pretended that angels sang along. They could see her. They understood. Someday, they would answer.

          Unnoticed, her mother had appeared behind her, teetering on unsteady legs and glaring through bloodshot eyes. Without a word, she’d pulled the lid down over Anastasia’s small hands. Instantly, the music had stopped.

Filled with the same sense of empty distance she often felt when traveling to jobs, Anastasia stared out the rear window of the cube van. Buildings passed, and street lamps, and trees, and white clouds peppered the blue sky. She’s forgotten that her hands and feet were cuffed and simply watched the cars and people move about as though it were any other day, and for most of them, it was. Even for her, this was barely a ripple in the stream of her own daily existence. Whatever could happen didn’t concern her.

Two SWAT officers rode in the back with Anastasia, watching as her thin frame bounced with the ride and her gaze, patient and easy, never swayed from the window. When the truck pulled to a halt and they began to move her, the easiness was still there. Resigned to what was taking place, Anastasia followed without resistance. She carefully stepped from the SWAT van over metal steps that clanked when the ankle cuffs hit them and moved into the entrance of the precinct surrounded by SWAT security.

The entourage moved down a long, very white hallway and with each step, those old, ivory keys played out that haunting melody in Anastasia’s mind. The walls ran into each other, white, white and more white. When the group turned a corner, there was more of the same.

The SWAT team’s pace was steady and even. Ping, ping, ping, went the piano, step, step, step. Just ahead, Anastasia could see a doorway and several people milling beyond it. They weren’t waiting for her, necessarily, but simply were busy working.

Without pause, the entourage marched right through the door and into the busy police station. In the middle of the room, they stopped and waited.

Anastasia surveyed the place with calm disinterest while all eyes turned toward her. The SWAT officers flanking her parted slightly for their approaching comrades, a handful of other officers who’d been part of the seize-and-capture operation. At the forefront was young Billy Spencer. He and Anastasia came face to face; filled with a range of emotions, he brought his fist up and struck her hard in the chin, causing her to spin. She immediately turned back to him, the quick flash of anger on her face changing to nothingness. Her eyes, though, had not lost the fire, and her gaze bore directly into him.

However, Anastasia chose to step back. After all, she understood why he’d done it.

“That’s enough!” yelled Detective Gethers over the gathering crowd. “Get her into room A.”

The entourage began to move again. Past all the stares, they moved across the large room and entered yet another hall. They stopped abruptly at the first door. Two officers escorted Anastasia inside and two remained outside.

Interrogation room A looked like all the other interrogation rooms: plain. Very plain. More white, one table, a few chairs and a mirrored window. One of the SWAT members directed Anastasia to a chair at the table and, she took a seat. The two guards then stood against the wall near the door.

Minutes went by, and eventually hours. Anastasia understood the game. With patience, she stared straight ahead, never moving, just waiting.

It had been the beginning of the end. The destruction of a tiny girl with tiny-girl dreams and a fresh, hopeful outlook on life. But all that was turning out to be wasted.

          Sitting at the window, across the room from the piano, she’d simply looked at it while resting her still-throbbing hands in her lap. Pain had been a daily event, her reality. She’d known she was different. Her life was different. It was not what all little girls were born into.

          She’d begun to think that her life need not be wasted. Perhaps her future was meant to be different from other little girls’. Yes. It had felt correct, that thought. She was going to be different. The question was, would her future be better?

They watched her. Over several hours, Anastasia didn’t move, shift or even sigh. The guards displayed more tension and boredom than she did. One of them began to pace.

With eyes open, she’d stared at the piece of paper without seeing it. She hadn’t needed to read those words again. They’d been emblazoned inside her. Those harsh words. Words that had made her wish for the strength to avenge. Her grandmother must have known it, too.

          She’d folded the paper and looked at her hands. Everytime she’d looked at them lately she could hear the piano. Heard the song: Convento Di Sant’Anna.

***

          “That’s enough,” announced Catalina, collecting a small pile of folders from a chair in the observation room. “It’s showtime.” He left the room, but everyone else remained. This meeting was not to be missed.

Catalina stopped at the washroom first. Placing the folders on the sink counter, he splashed cold water on his face and then looked at himself closely in the mirror. The moment at hand felt different from what he’d always imagined, and he couldn’t afford a mistake. The White Ming waited for him, and he truly wasn’t sure now that he was ready. With a sigh, he wiped his face with a papertowel.

Entering the interrogation room, Agent Catalina dismissed the two guards and closed the door. He turned toward Anastasia and paused. Her appearance took him slightly by surprise. He’d known what to expect and yet, seeing her only a few paces away, he was amazed by just how feminine she was.

She turned toward him with vague interest, her gaze meeting his and a gentle grin toying with her full red lips. She sat with impeccable posture, her elbows resting casually on the table. Her soft, flowery scent filled the room. Her dark hair, long and silken, curled slightly about her porcelain face and cascaded down her back.

“Special Agent,” she said amiably. It wasn’t a inquisition, but rather a statement.

He moved closer. “I’m impressed.” Catalina had not yet introduced himself. She knew he represented a different instituition.

“Are you?”

It felt like flirtation. Anastasia appeared to be amused, and it surprised Catalina greatly. From all he’d learned about her, he had expected a cold, frothy reception and little banter, if any. He took a seat across from her and laid his files before him. “Yes. I’m Special Agent Catalina, CIA.”

“There’s no need to identify myself, I assume.”

He purposely ignored the comment. “Can I get you a glass of water?”

“No.” Her expression still appeared light.

With a slight nod, Catalina leaned back in his chair casually. “You’re here as a primary suspect for several murders.”

Nothing about her changed. Not a flinch. Not a change in expression. Nothing. “You don’t look concerned.”

She blinked at him. “I’m not.”

“Well, you certainly should be. We’ve been tracking you for months and have more than enough evidence to put you away for a very long time.”

Still no reaction.

“You’re in over your head. Not even your Triad pals can help you now.”

Once more, nothing.

“Still not concerned?”

“Not at all.”

Pulling himself closer to the table, Catalina opened his file folders. He took out several photos and pushed them toward her. “If this were me, I’d be concerned.”

Without touching the prints, she glanced at them and then back to him. “You’re definitely not me.”

“This is serious,” he warned. “We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure your contacts can’t help you here.”

She hesitated, “The FBI must be furious with you. After all, an arrest of this magnitude. They must really be pissed off.”

FBI had jurisdiction on all local matters such as this. The CIA was mandated to international affairs outside their country.

He studied her briefly. “This division made the arrest and it will go through with the prosecution.”

“No sign of the spooks, is that it?”

Catalina secretly loved the CIA nickname. “Does it really matter who convicts you?”

“This is a domestic affair. FBI handles domestic affairs, CIA does not.”

“There’s nothing domestic about Triads,” he snapped back, but then regained his composure. He realized that she was studying him. Her eyes were taking in everything about his face. “The reality for you at this moment, Anastasia, is that you’ve been arrested. You will be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Even more real is the fact that you will not finish out your sentence because you and I both know your Triad comrades will kill you at first opportunity, whether you testify against anyone or not.”

“What do you want?”

“Mao Xian Ming.” It amazed him that her expression didn’t even change at the mention of the man she considered father. Silence hung thick in the air. Several moments passed. “We know he’s one of the most powerful and illustrious Triad leaders in this country at the moment, and we want him convicted. You’re the one who can do that. Your testimony will do that. There isn’t anyone closer to the inner details of the Triad community.”

“Why would I even consider doing something so malignant?” She leaned as far as she could across the table. “You’re here for a reason, Special Agent Catalina.”

Propping his elbows on the table, he clasped his hands together and leaned into them. “If you help us take down this Triad sector, we can make a deal.”

“I won’t play these games. If you want something from me, you lay it all out on the table now, or I’ll say no and take my chances.”

He knew she meant it. “Fair enough, but I want an answer now, or the deal ends when I walk out that door.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.” He gathered up his photos and put them back in the folder. “We want enough on Ming to get a life sentence and at least three others along with him. You’ll still be convicted, but in return for your help, we’ll allow you to fulfill your sentence in the CIA rather than a prison.”

Mao Xian Ming. If you’re going to refer to my father, show some respect.”

“You have skills that many organizations in this world could undoubtedly use. The CIA is no exception. Why not start playing for the good guys?”

“Not many in this world would agree with that descriptive.”

“At least what you do will be legal.”

“Again, a very gray area.”

“I want an answer,” he pushed.

“Why would you ever trust me?”

Catalina laughed. “Believe me, we have no intention of giving you a new life and sending you out on the streets. You’ll have to pass several high-standard evaluations and attend training before you go anywhere, and if we even suspect you’ve breached your end of the bargain, we will terminate you. As far as the Triads go, we know they’ll kill you if they ever find you.”

When she said nothing, he pushed his chair back from the table and stood. Picking up his files, he headed for the door, but then stopped. “What will it be?”

He held his breath while the seconds passed. She stared at the wall ahead of her.

Finally, she turned her gaze back to him.

“Yes.”

He nodded and left.

***

          Alone once more, Anastasia closed her eyes and waited.

Paul Catalina returned to the observation room and they continued to watch her.

“What next?” wondered Detective Gethers.

“It’s your turn. You take down all the details she can give you and let her make her call.”

“What about Ming? How’d you know she won’t tip him off?”

Catalina shook his head. “The moment we picked her up her loyalty was compromised and her life threatened by these people. She wants this deal, and if he takes off, she knows there is no deal.”

“Spencer said she only pulled the trigger once,” Detective Handle said out loud.

“Really?” responded Catalina surprised.

“Odd, don’t you think? An empty first chamber doesn’t always mean an empty gun.”

Definitely odd, speculated Paul Catalina for the remainder of the night. Everything Anastasia did was done with perfect precision and planning. He never knew her to make a slip, nor did it seem like her to relinquish so easily. Certainly he’d anticipated a struggle to make the arrest. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why did she run right back to where she started? It couldn’t possibly have been for the car.

***

          The door to interrogation room A opened slowly. Mao Xian Ming entered, followed by an officer to stand guard. When Anastasia’s eyes turned to her father, time stopped. Anastasia stood and bowed to him in reverence. He moved to her, and his hand lovingly touched her face. The guard stepped forward and warned that direct contact was prohibited. Mao Xian Ming stepped back. With a short nod, he took a seat at the table and Anastasia did the same and seated herself across from him.

It was the dead of winter. Each day the black limousine passed that same dark corner, and there were days when Mao Xian Ming would see her and days when he would not. The dilapidated building was empty and boarded up. This, he assumed, was where she hid for shelter.

Mao Xian Ming wasn’t a large man, though his presence made up for what he lacked in size. He was powerful, lethally intelligent and a very wealthy man. He didn’t look anywhere near his sixty-eight years, and he was a man of honor and discipline. Even though he was a leader in the Triad society, he was also a respected businessman and investor.

Dressed in an expensive gray suit, Mao Xian sat calmly before the woman he called daughter. Eventually, he spoke. “I already have a lawyer for you.” There was no reaction from Anastasia. In Chinese he added, “You will do what you must.”

Once, Mao Xian had his driver stop the car and he called the small girl over. Anastasia stood cautiously near the car, her big bright eyes took everything in. “You must go home,” he said to her. “The streets are no place for such a little girl.”

          Her face dropped in horror then, she turned and fled. It would be days until he saw her again.

“I can stop this,” answered Anastasia in Chinese. Whatever her father wanted of her, she’d deliver without question. Every breath Anastasia took was in honor of Mao Xian Ming.

He closed his eyes for a moment. The pain of what he asked pressed on him. He imagined how strong her resolve would have to be and he mentally sent her strength. “It is the right path.” His Asian accent was heavy. “And I’ll always be with you.”

For the first time since his arrival, her eyes left his. There she was, the deadly White Ming, and before Mao Xian, she was as vulnerable as the child. “What about Vingar?”

“I will do my best to handle him, but he won’t understand.” He spoke of his only son and Anastasia’s lover.

“Rian?”

“Settled and doing fine.” His birth daughter did understand, and already escaped the coming aftermath.

“I’m so sorry it’s come to this.”

“You are as perfect as you were created. Everything is as it was meant to be.” Mao Xian spoke in a hushed fatherly tone. “I love you, and through all that will come, I will love you.”

Thank you.”  For the love, the home, the family and the upbringing was what she wanted to really say. “I will always love you, father. Always.” A tear broke free and streamed down Anastasia’s cheek. She wanted desperately to say more, and couldn’t.

Mao Xian Ming nodded and stood. Anastasia stood with him. Her hand went out to him and he touched it briefly as the guard stepped in, and protested once more. Anastasia watched as her father was led by the guard from interrogation room A.

He’d almost missed her when his limo slowed, as it often had when they went by the corner where he often saw the small girl. Mao Xian ordered the car to stop one morning when he saw a small, dark, crumpled heap in the building doorway. It was Anastasia.

          “Check on her,” he ordered his driver.

          The driver looked back from the collapsed body and shook his head. “I think, hypothermia.”

“Bring her,” commanded Ming. “This day will not be her day to die.”

***

          The air was thick with strain inside the observation room. No one had any idea of what exactly had been said between father and daughter, but the entire proceeding had been recorded.

With his hand outstretched on the obscured glass, Catalina demanded to see an interpreter.

***

          When Anastasia’s lawyer arrived, he’d sat in futile silence waiting for some response. An hour passed and he’d received nothing to help in a defense. Frustrated, he finally left.

***

          Paul Catalina burst into the interrogation room after meeting with an interpreter. “You warned him.”

Standing out of instinct because he approached her so quickly, Anastasia calmly responded, “Who?”

“Ming. I got every bit of that conversation.”

Her eyes narrowed, “Mao Xian Ming. Say it.”

He leaned over the table close to her face, “Mao Xian Ming seems to know what’s going on. That was not our agreement. If he gets away, we have no deal.”

Waiting for a moment, Anastasia purposely allowed Catalina’s anger and curiosity to peak. Then, she added, “He knows that I’ve been asked to testify, but not of our deal. He accepts that I’ll do what I must. That’s all.”

“You might have blown everything,” retorted Catalina with his voice menacing and low.

“He won’t go anywhere.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I’m his daughter,” she said proudly and with assurance. “My father accepts his responsibility for my life. He would never sacrifice mine to save his own.”

Catalina leaned upright and away.

“You were right about my people,” she said. “My life was made worthless from the moment of my arrest.”

“You mentioned Vingar Ming in your conversation,” Catalina pried.

“I’m sure he’ll do what he can to avenge his father.”

“And your father.”

“Yes, but I am after all, only female,” she said. The Chinese culture did have a traditional male heirarchy. Her tone fell. “Vingar won’t understand.”

“We will keep you secure. No doubt about it.”

Anastasia didn’t need Catalina’s reassurance. The future was near at hand, and no one, not even her lover, could interfere with it. Her power was stronger than her brother’s and her intuition was ahead of his.

***

          Into the early hours of the morning, Anastasia worked with Detective Gethers and Detective Handle on all the details needed for the pending arrests. She was cooperative and curt. Anastasia agreed to give the information, but she didn’t have to like it.

Weary and finally finished, Handle and Gethers were ready to call it a day but, before they left for the night, arrangements were made for Anastasia to change into prison overalls and settle into a solitary holding cell for the night. She would be flanked by six officers: four of them SWAT.

The cell was cold and Anastasia had absolutely no privacy. She glanced around at the stone walls and the obviously open toilet in the corner, with a small sink next to it. With a sigh, she moved over to the bunk. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, Anastasia’s life had been very different. Unfolding her blankets, she smoothed them out slowly, and carefully.

Anastasia climbed onto the bunk after carefully arranging the blankets. She sat cross-legged with eyes closed toward the wall and her hands rested gently on her knees.

The guards were initially amused, and nudged one another, then after half an hour, they were bored. And after an hour, they didn’t care anymore.

At last, Anastasia slipped beneath the blankets on her bunk and closed her eyes.

***

          Cold and blue, Anastasia, motionless, was carried up the front steps of the affluent Ming home and taken inside. It was the dead of winter, and a fire greeted them in the study. The driver carried Anastasia and carefully laid her on a sofa; while her frail form barely took up half of it.

          Mao Xian carefully examined her. He was sure of hypothermia, and suspected dehydration and malnutrition too. He ordered his housemaid to come. He was certain she would know what to do to bring the little girl, so weak of life, back.

          Eventually the small eyes flickered open and the shivers began. She was cold; deathly cold and drained.

***

          The Triad sector was filled with anger and fear as arrests were made. The men in blue scrambled to keep the edge handed to them, and the prosecutors swam in a media frenzy as word got out.

The security around Anastasia had doubled, and the mandate for secrecy for all involved was constantly reinforced. The CIA covertly watched from the sideline as Gethers and Handle maneuvered the case of their career.

During many lengthy Q&A sessions with Gethers and Handle, Anastasia was rarely informed of an agenda. She was at their mercy and would calmly sit in the interrogation room, answering questions patiently.

Soon, they would see a courtroom, and soon, the wait would be over for Anastasia. Soon a new chapter would begin for her.

***

          Uncontrollable shakes consumed her entire body as Anastasia cowered in a luke warm bath. She was unsure, but too weak to struggle as an older Asian woman tended to Anastasia in expressionless care.

          Anastasia stared at the ivory porcelain. There wasn’t any  point looking up at the woman who attempted to save her. Instead, Anastasia suffered quietly and followed what was expected. She would live as animals did, taking whatever life gave; not complaining, not wishing, never longing.

***

          “You have a visitor,” announced Detective Handle. “Vingar Ming.”

Anastasia nodded from where she sat at the interrogation room table. It was the same position he left her in an hour ago.

She wouldn’t look at Vingar until he stood directly before her on the opposite side of the table. His sleek, dark eyes coldly glared in her direction.

“How could you let things get this out of hand?” he wanted to know.

“Stay out of this.”

“You will not testify,” ordered Vingar.

She stood and levelled her eyes with his. “I do not take my orders from you, and this has nothing to do with you, Vingar. Stay out of it.”

          He paused. “I won’t let you do this.”

“You can’t stop it.”

“Father can’t take this; not right now. I’ll do anything I have to.”

“I’ve already spoken to Father. Leave it be, Vingar.”

          “Whatever deal you made, you won’t see it through, Ana.”

Her tone was low and laced with menace, “This is far bigger than you are, and there isn’t a thing you can do to change anything.”

“My life purpose will be to end yours.”

“I’m stronger than you are, Vingar. And I’m more focused than you are.”

Vingar moved around the table and grabbed Anastasia’s arm. “He’ll fucking die in prison.”

The guard immediately ran toward them to stop the contact. He was too late.

Anastasia sent Vingar across the room as he stumbled backward into the opposing wall. The heel of her open hand caught him in the center of his face. The handcuffs had done nothing to slow her.

The guard rushed to restrain Anastasia as Vingar used the wall behind him to steady himself, all while dabbing at a bloody nose.

Vingar pointed at Anastasia, “This is not the end between you and I.”

“It’s done, Vingar,” she said as he left without looking back.

Vingar was permitted to see his father an hour later after he cooled down from his visitation with Anastasia. He and Mao Xian sat across from one another in a different interrogation room, while Vingar still nursed his nose.

“Stay out of this,” pleaded his father. “You should be thankful you still have your life ahead of you.”

“Why is Anastasia doing this? Why is she doing this to you?”

“She is doing what must be done. It is not easy for her.”

“Don’t defend her, not now.” He hated that his father seemed to favor Anastasia. She was the learner. She was the intuitive. She was driven to honor at any cost. “I can’t believe she’s going through with this.”

“Her path is different from yours. You know that.”

“You’re going to die in here.”

“I am going to die regardless,” Mao Xian said matter-of-factly. “This was the way to save the family. Accept it and follow your future.”

“Family? Rian’s disappeared, and you along with Anastasia have no future. I’m alone. How is that saving us?”

Mao Xian shook his head. “Life is about change. Accept fate. Trust it.”

“How did everything get so messed up overnight?”

Vingar now had regrets of not taking his rightful place in the Society, as heir to Mao Xian Ming. If he had, what now unfolded might have been prevented.

“You know I cannot explain. Accept that this is what must be.”

Vingar stood and shook his head. “I can’t do that.”

Mao Ming’s tone was fatherly and serious, “You will. This is what I want.” He studied his only son for acknowledgment. “Promise me.”

With his head turned away, Vingar sighed before he looked back at his father, “I’ll try.”

“I love her,” Mao Xian said of Anastasia, “And you do as well. I’m sorry that this is what the future has brought, but you must accept it, Vingar. We have responsibilities regardless of what we desire.”

Vingar always disliked the Triad lifestyle, and today he hated it. It was a code and an allegiance. It was a world with different rules: a secret society, almost impenetrable, yet, for some unfathomed reason, Anastasia was turning informant where informants were rare. Even more unexplicable was the truth that this ancestral web of secrecy was being betrayed by one who lived the life every breathing moment with zeal. Anastasia lived to serve the Society: an audacious Triad sect governing all others and led only by aristocratic ancestral lineage. It was a birthright he refused and one she could never claim, yet here they were.

Logically, Vingar understood there was a reason Anastasia would follow this path, and there was a reason his father supported it; but it felt near impossible to care what that reason was.

Vingar tried to accept what members of the Triad Society could. Fate. This was the reason he’d never indulged in their secret affairs. He always questioned fate. Anastasia had not. If his father handed her a knife and demanded she kill herself for the good of the Society, she would have; easily and immediately.

Outside the interrogation room, Vingar leaned back against a wall and closed his eyes. He touched his throbbing nose and winced at a sharp shot of pain. His intuition was nothing like Anastasia’s and he wondered, was she out to save herself, or was there some secret agenda to lift their father from this mess?

***

          Weary, Gethers and Handle sat across from Mao-Xian Ming. All their attempts to obtain any form of confession from him were met with dissonance. Not that it really mattered. Anastasia had already provided all they would need.

“You don’t seem to want to talk about my daughter,” Mao-Xian finally broke his streak of silence.

Detective Handle only shrugged nonchalently.

“Do you really trust her?” asked Mao-Xian.

“Trust has nothing to do with it,” added Gethers. “She’s going down with you.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Oh?” feigned Gethers in curiosity.

“You would never have me if she had not given me to you. Anastasia never would have done that unless you offered something enticing.” Mao-Xian leaned forward, his voice was low as though he were sharing a secret. “Be careful, detectives. She can do things that others can’t.”

Handle laughed facetiously.

“What are you saying?” asked Gethers.

“Maybe she’s a ninja?” Handle laughed again.

“You already know, or you wouldn’t have gone to such lengths for her, and with so much security around her,” said Mao-Xian. “Beware of underestimating Anastasia. She has what most people lack.”

“And what’s that?” asked Gethers.

“An attachment to physical existence, which includes her own. Anastasia is considered multi-sensory. You have her in your possession because she’s decided it honorable to serve her government. When she discovers your hypocrisy, she will leave and you will not be able to stop her. And that is all I will give to you.”

***

          “I heard the tape.” A frustrated Paul Catalina said while running tired hands through his hair. They were sitting in Gethers office, both detectives and the CIA agent, after the meeting with Ming. The trial couldn’t come fast enough for any of them.

“What was all that bullshit?” continued Gethers. “He insinuated she’s a ninja for god’s sake.”

Relax,” chided Catalina. “He’s playing with you. We have her, and soon it’ll be over.”

“I can’t wait,” snapped Gethers.

“Something’s off about Anastasia,” Handle said. “You can feel it when you’re near her.”

“It’s almost done,” Catalina pointed out again.

“Are you sure she’ll really do it?” asked Handle.

Rubbing his hands over his weary eyes, Agent Catalina looked up. He hadn’t slept in weeks. “Yes.”

Attempting to put all fear to rest, Catalina had Anastasia brought back to an interrogation room. As he entered, he asked, “How are you?” He paused waiting for an answer and when one didn’t come, he tried again, “I know it’s getting tiresome.”

“We’re not friends. We’re using one another and it’ll be better if you remember that.”

Pulling a chair out from the table, he purposely let it drag loudly across the floor, hoping in some small way to annoy her. “We just spoke with Ming. He says you’re multi-sensory. Care to explain that one?”

Her stoic glare darkened, “Disrespect my father once more, and I’ll break your jaw.”

His eyes held hers for a long moment before Catalina nodded in conceit, “Mao-Xian Ming also says you’re a ninja.”

She laughed at this. “Scaring you, is he?”

“He did mention that he was warning us.”

“And you came to me to put your fears to rest?”

“I’m not afraid of you, Anastasia.”

Wanting to grab him up out of his chair by the neck using the links between her cuffs, she thought better of it. Instead she whispered, “Yes, you are.”

Catalina stood and roughly pushed his chair back. His hands came down on the table between them in a loud bang. “Be careful. Don’t ever bite the hand that feeds you. It’s an animal that has very little tolerance for that.” He referred to the CIA.

The CIA wanted Anastasia Ming for a reason, and that fact was chilling to the bone. Catalina chastised himself for forgetting who and what she really was. Initially, he was enamored with her enigmatic presence and the fact that they finally, after so many months, had her in their possession. The White Ming was a killer with little or no emotion, and she was exceptional at it. From this moment, he would not forget.

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