Episode 10: An Itch I Can't Scratch

The underground panic room was tiny. It looked like a dungeon, enough for three persons to stand up, but right now, there was only one. Its entrance was hidden behind the chopper garage, and now with the garage blown and burnt to ground, it was covered under the ruins. Inside of the panic room, it was completely dark, and had absolutely no signal.

The Snake waited until he heard no more footsteps and explosions. The noises of choppers hovering overhead faded away. He pushed the iron door open and peeked outside. Only half of the mansion was still standing, the other half had been consumed by fire and smoke. The fire was almost out, though.

The Leopard had left with the mercs. He had got what he came for. He didn't bother turning every stone to find any other survivor.

The Snake covered his nose and mouth with a wet towel and dashed upstairs. He saw the Lion, whose body was burning with what was left of the furniture, and with a small hole in his forehead.

"Oh, God." The Snake choked with sob. He knelt and buried his face in his hands. The Lion had taken him in when he was a little kid making a living by petty thieving in London. He had been like a father to him. Now he was gone. The Snake felt more empty than sad.

A moment later, he rushed downstairs to his room, which had survived the first explosions. The fire had almost destroyed everything, except his fire-proof safe. He retrieved a backup laptop, a phone, some cash and some documents, and left the building.

"Tell me you both made it!" As soon as the Snake dialed Eric's number, it was connected.

"No. The Lion's dead. The Leopard did it." The Snake said.

The other end of the line went silent.

"I know what you are thinking." The Snake continued. "No, don't feel that way. The Leopard wasn't here for you or Peyton. He came for the Lion. He didn't know you were here. Wherever you are now, don't come back. There is nothing left to come back to. Go do your thing, finish your job, save Peyton. I have sent you the detailed files of Littlemoon and the Crespo Cartel last night. Do you have the mission bag with you? I hope you do, cos the house is burnt to the ground."

"Yes. Thank you. What are you gonna do now?" Asked Eric.

"I'm going to disappear for a while. The Leopard is taking out the Predators one by one. I must warn the others."

"Right. Do you have any other place to stay?"

The Snake went silent.

"OK. I get it. Good luck, Snaky. Thank you for saving me back in Singapore."

"Don't mention it. Good luck to you, too. Goodbye, Wolf."

The line ended. Eric sighed. He opened his bag, and checked the water, food, ammo, and the camping gears.

"I'm sorry, Eric. He was a good man." Peyton squatted beside Eric and put a hand on his shoulder.

"No, he wasn't, by your ethical standards." Eric said, as he counted the remaining supplies. "He was responsible for the deaths of more than 800 people, directly or indirectly." Eric took off his sunglasses and looked at Peyton. "I heard you Chinese people believe in Buddha. In your theory, this kind of karma can never be paid back. Here's my suggestion. For your sake, don't shoot a person unless it is your life or his. Those faces, they never go way. Let's get moving. The sight-seeing is over." He stood up, avoiding Peyton's eyes so that she couldn't see his red eyes, and dropped the backpack on the ground.

Peyton stood up to. She hugged Eric and put her face on his chest. "I don't believe in Buddha. I know he was the closest thing to a family to you." For a moment she wished this was but a dream, in which she wasn't a married woman running for her life from the killer hired by a South American drug cartel or his Peso broker, but a college girl going hiking with her boyfriend, or simply someone she had encountered and fallen in love with during her summer vacation tour, like in those romantic fantasies she had had when she was actually a college girl. She felt sorry for Eric. For a moment she wished Leon didn't exist, that the man standing in front of her shedding tears was a normal man, the most smart and skilled warrior, who would take on the whole world just to protect her, instead of a split personality sharing one body with someone else. Neither of the wishes could become true, that was why after she held his face with both her hands, it was not followed by a kiss on his lips, but the following words: "No matter what happens, I'll follow you. No matter what you tell me to do, I'll do it. For now, let's pull ourselves together. OK? Eric?"

Eric nodded. He picked up his bag and checked the Beretta. Peyton turned around to fasten the belts of her bag, trying not to let Eric see her flushed face.

"We turn north. If we go faster than we did this morning, we'll reach a skiing center by tomorrow noon. From there we can take the train to Zurich. We'll have to camp for the night. We're gonna have to share a tent. We have only one self-heating sheet."

"OK." Peyton said, turning around and looked at Eric with her head on one side. "Are we good to go?"


Diego Reyes, the big man, cut the oranges in halves, and put them one piece at a time into the juicing machine. Outside of the kitchen window, poppy fields and ranches stretched to the mountain feet, with farmers working under the scorching sun. In the courtyard below the kitchen window, a couple of armed men were guarding two wooden cases. The kitchen had yellow windowsills and ceramic tiles with brown decorative patterns. One of the tiles was ten times bigger than the others, with the self-portrait of Frida Kahlo printed on it. At the center of the kitchen, there was a big table with a Rococo design ceiling lamp overhead, and a set of Mexican condiments on it. Beside the table, sat Ronnie dos Santos and his boss, Benjamin Littlemoon.

"You guys didn't have to deliver the cash in person." Reyes poured the orange juice into 3 cups. "Besides, what am I to do with all the cash? Wipe my fat ass with it?"

"You said deliver the money, so we delivered. It is all cleaned." Ronnie said.

"Money itself doesn't have value, you know that?" Reyes pushed one cup in front of each of his guests and sat down beside the table. "The human history is based on lies. Money is the biggest lie of all. You know, our ancestors used to trade stuff with stuff, like a goat for an axe. It made perfect sense. A goat is useful, so is an axe. Later people saw the problem. A guy with a goat didn't always want an axe. He might want a horse. Then they all came to an agreement. They traded with gold. A man who had gold could trade it for a goat or an axe, or anything else. It made perfect sense, too, because gold itself was useful, and permanent, and accepted by all human beings in the world. Then the big lie came. The governments printed these little pieces of paper, and told people, that they could trade anything with these useless pieces of paper within the borders of their dominance. People accepted the lie. They thought as long as their governments existed, their life's savings were safe and sound. They were wrong. When a government's credit goes to toilet, so does its money. Do you know another circumstance that the paper money worth less than toilet paper?"

Benjamin and Ronnie didn't move their lips. They just gazed at Reyes like elementary school kids gazing at their teacher.

"When they are out of the territory of the government who printed it, like your 18 million U.S. dollars down there." Reyes took a big sip of the juice. "What am I gonna do with it? I can't spend it here. I can't go to your country and spend it. DEA, FBI, IRS, they will be all over my ass. I can't put it into the bank. Last time I put that kind of cash in HSBC, they were fined 19 billion dollars by the U.S. government. I don't think they'll accept my cash again, even if I put guns to their heads. I can't keep it in my house. Do you know what will come when you keep a large chunk of cheese in your bedroom?"

"Rats." Benjamin said, with a poker face.

"It seems there is only one way to deal with it." Reyes put down the cup, walked by the window and whistled to his men with two fingers in his mouth. One of the men nodded. He shouted something in Spanish to another man, who poured some gasoline on the cases and set it on fire.

"Fuck! What the fuck are you doing? It's 18 million dollars!" Benjamin shouted. "We flew 5 hours under the radar to deliver it! People in LSBC died for it! Antonio and his boss died for it! Ronnie almost died for it!"

"Relax, amigo." Reyes patted Ben's shoulder. "Like I said, they are just useless pieces of paper, no value at all. However, you have delivered what values the most to me, faith. Trust me, if you haven't delivered it, you and Ronnie are dissolving in a barrel of hydrochloric acid as we speak."

"There is one problem." Benjamin recovered from the shock. He tried his best to keep his voice steady. "The checker, the one who got away, together with the financial crime girl. He is a checker in LSBC. Looks like he is looking for some sort of pay back."

"A checker? Are you sure? Since when are checkers difficult to ventilate?" Reyes emptied his orange juice.

"He has taken out Antonio in Florence, then he went to Rome and killed Ancelotti and his bodyguards." Ronnie said.

"What did he do? Smashing their heads with a pile of documents?"

"I'm afraid he is coming after me, and you, Diego. Maybe you should talk to the contract killer you hired. My gut tells me your guy knows something about this checker, which he has not shared with you."

"What information I share with my hitman is none of your concern. Now, go back to where you have come from. Lay low for some time if you think he is after you. I still need you to collect the payments from my buyers. We still have tens of billions to collect. That's the only reason you are not burning with your precious 18 million dollars in the courtyard. Gentlemen?" He offered a hand.

Ben and Ronnie shook his hands in turn. "We'll show ourselves out." Benjamin said.

Reyes watched them flying away in their Cirrus SR22 plane. He took out his phone and dialed a number.

"Yes?" The Leopard answered.

"I heard you have put a team together?" Reyes asked.

"Yes."

"Get them here with you. You'll be well compensated."

"You got it, boss."


"Eric?"

"Yes, it's me."

"Is this sheet really gonna stay warm for 12 hours?"

"Yes. The chemicals in it can provide heat. Even if it cools off 12 hours later, the sleeping bag will keep you warm for another 2 hours."

"Where's Leon? Haven't seen him for a while."

"Under the circumstances we both agreed it would be better if he stayed put. Let me put it this way. We both used to sit at the front row and take the wheel in turns. Now he is like sleeping in the trunk."

"You mean you are going to be around until everything is sorted out?"

"Yes."

"When will everything be sorted out?"

"When we find out who hired the Leopard, and kill him."

"Why kill him?"

"Because in our line of business, if the contractor dies, the contract closes."

"Do you have to kill the Leopard, too?"

"He is kinda hard to kill."

"You are hard to kill, too."

"I guess so."

"What if you two meet each other? Like face to face?"

"You've got too many questions. Just go to sleep, will ja?"

"I can't sleep. I'm nervous."

"Nervous about what?"

"What if the wild animals attack us?"

"I have a gun."

"What if there are too many of them? Outnumber your bullets?"

"I want you to close your eyes, and think about something nice and sweet."

"Like what?"

"Isn't there anything nice and sweet in your life? Like your family?"

"I don't want to think about my family at the moment. He just broke my heart this morning."

"I'm sorry. How about somewhere nice you have been. Like a beach. Close your eyes and picture yourself having a sunbath on the sands, with a big cup of lemonade by your side. Catherine taught me how to do it. Meditation. It works. It helps with my anger issue."

"You don't seem to have anger issue these days. At least you are not angry with me anymore, I suppose."

"Yea, right. Perhaps I have directed all my rage to the Leopard."

"The truth is, I don't really remember what it's like to be on a beach. I went to the beach this summer, but now it seems like ten years ago."

"You've been through a lot these days."

"Not just the beach. Everything. My family, my job, my past, they seem so far away from me now. It's…It's like the first 30 years of my life belonged to someone else, not myself. I was born the only child. I went to school when my parents told me to. I ate and slept when my parents told me to. I went to college as I was supposed to. I found a job in the bank as I was expected to. I got married 2 years after graduation and had kid 2 years after that. It was all set. My life's path. Sometimes I felt like I was already dead even though I was well alive. These few weeks, I'm running for my life. I could have been dead several times, and I'll probably be dead soon, maybe even tonight, in this tent. But, but I feel like…I have never felt so alive before. You understand what I'm saying?"

"Yes, I think I understand. But you are not going to die. I'll make sure of it. You are going back to Beijing, and maybe to Singapore, after everything is explained. Just go to sleep now, OK? We still have 30 kilometers to cover tomorrow."

The forest on the mountains of Alps was completely quiet, only occasional howling of distant wild dogs and, once in an hour or so, the engine of an airliner flying overhead. Through the transparent parts of the tent, stars were more visible than anywhere else in the world Eric and Peyton had ever been.

Eric and Peyton were each in their sleeping bags, sharing the only self-heating camping sheet, as he had not expected this would be a running away which would involve an overnight camping. He asked Peyton to lay on her left side and he himself on his right, so that they could hold a back-to-back position. He told her that it was to make the most of the sheet which was meant for one person. But deep in his heart, he knew in this position it would best protect Peyton, from himself.

When he decided to break free from the invisible prison in Singapore, he thought he was doing it for Leon, who had been hurt deeply by the deaths of his colleagues, especially Amy. He thought he had set out to do what he had been doing all his life, ever since the head trauma incidence, that was, to protect Leon from any harm and to revenge whoever had hurt him. He never expected he could grow so protective over and attached to this woman. He even thought about ending the threat to Peyton's life at the cost of his own, right on Pizzasa della Signoria in Florence. He wasn't sure why. But the moment he helped her hold the gun to aim the tree a couple of days ago, he knew it for sure. His heart tugged each time she mentioned her husband. What else could it be? Eric thought to himself. What's with this woman? Why have I lost my survival instinct, and the detachment with anyone that has served me so well in my life as a soldier and a killer? Is she just an itch I can't scratch, or the one meant to be? Oh my God, this woman will be the end of me.

"Eric?" Peyton's sleepy voice cut off his thoughts.

"Yes?"

"Can I go check my tent? I'm worried my bag may be dragged away by some wildlife."

"That's not your bag. It's Tigress's. Don't worry about the bag. I'll buy you a new one in Zurich if it's gone."

"OK. Good night, Eric."

"Good night, Peyton."

20 minutes later. Peyton said, "Eric?"

"Yes?"

"Can I turn around and hold you from behind?"

"Negative. We'll lose the heat if we change position."

"OK. Good night, Eric."

"Good night, Peyton."

"Good night."

"Good night."

5 seconds later, Peyton snored.


2705 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, U.S.A.

"He fucking burnt it! That son of a bitch burnt it!" Benjamin sat down on his couch, putting a hand on his forehead.

"Why do you think he did it?" Ronnie frowned. He had gone through a great deal of trouble to make it happen. He had made a trip to Singapore and chose LSBC as his target, because his contact with a Singaporean crime organization offered him a list of bank managers "owned" by them, and he chose Jack Campbell. Then he sent copies of Jack's pictures with a hooker, provided by his contact, threatening him that if he didn't do exactly as he said, these pictures together with videos would go straight into his wife's email box. Then he contacted Bill Henderson, the account manager, to open a trade account, and presented 7 sets of documents, as Jack had suggested. Because any larger amount, Jack wouldn't be able to approve the transactions all by himself. He had bought the 7 sets of cloned Bills of Lading from black market, and presented them with the rest of the documents. When Bill Henderson confronted him with the fake supporting documents which he had figured out during the post-transaction review, and told him he would freeze the account and take back the money, Ronnie panicked. He called the number which Reyes had told him to call "in cases of emergency". The Leopard answered his call, and took care of everyone who tried to investigate, except the checker and the woman with Financial Crime Investigation Department, who got away from his chase. In one word, Ronnie had gone through a hell lot of trouble, done a hell lot of work, and risked almost everything, for the money schemed from LSBC. He's heart broke into pieces when he saw the money on fire, but he couldn't let it show.

"He doesn't need the money." Benjamin said. "He just needed to see if we are still valuable to him. It was just a test. A fucking test of our loyalty!"

"What about this checker? He is serious. He may be coming for us." Ronnie was worried. "Should we hide?"

"Hiding is not an option. We have works to do. More shipments have set off to Elizabeth Port this week and Reyes expects his payment within one month. Without Antonio, I'll have to figure out some other way to launder it. Fuck! I'm so stressed out! I think I need to have some entertainment."

"OK. I'll arrange it."

"More exotic this time. I'm tire of blondes."

"You got it."


The next morning, when Peyton opened her eyes, Eric was gone. The sky had just turned to light blue and the stars had not vanished yet. Eric was nowhere to be seen. Tremendous terror filled her lung. She struggled out of the sleeping bag, and tore the tent zipper open.

"Eric! Eric!" She turned around and around. She checked her own tent, behind the rocks, even on the trees, no sign of him. She began to stumble around in the forest looking for him, tears blurred her eyes. She almost fell. "Eric! Where are you!" She sat down and wept.

"Jesus! Peyton," Eric came out from behind a tree. "Can't I have some privacy?"

"Eric! Where have you been!" Peyton ran toward him and hit him in the chest. "I thought you left me!"

"Why would I leave you? I had to poo. A contract killer needs to poo like everybody else!"

"Why didn't you answer me when I called you? You just let me worry!" Peyton kept hitting Eric while wiping her tears.

"It would be embarrassing, you know." Eric said, "Answering you while taking a poo. It's… It's just embarrassing!"

Peyton laughed through tears. "OK." She said.

"We take the food and water, my gun and my mission package. Leave everything else here. We must arrive at the skiing center by noon."

5 hours later, Eric and Peyton arrived at the skiing center. Their military outfit couldn't blend into the tourists, so after they got off the mountain in a cable cart, they bought themselves common coats in the shop at the railway station before they got on a train to Zurich. By nightfall, they got on a flight from Zurich to Frankfurt, and the next morning, they were on the flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles.

"When we arrive in L.A., I'm gonna have to stay in shadow." In the first-class cabinet of the flight to Los Angeles, Eric said, "I must stay in the hotel room until dark, otherwise I might be caught by surveillance cameras. I won't be able to make any phone call, because I'll be voice-matched and traced. It's U.S. soil, the FBI's home game. My hands are tied. You are our only hope now."

"OK, what's the plan?" Peyton asked. She liked the feeling of doing this together with him, a feeling mixed with thrill and terror. Her heart pounded even though they were still above the Atlantic Ocean, many hours to go before they landed in Los Angeles.

"You already know who Littlemoon is, what you don't know is, how timid and cunning he is." Eric said. "His mansion is on the hillside of Mulholland Drive. It is where he lives and works. He doesn't go out much, unless it is to Mexico to meet his boss. A man named Ronnie runs all his errands for him. His office and bedroom are the same room. According to Snaky's file, this room has a secret tunnel, the location of the other end is known to himself only. It means once he got into his panic tunnel, it will be impossible to find him, and he will never come back to this address again. Snaky will be off the grid for God knows how long, which means we don't have a tracker to get his next possible address. We only have one shot at this."

"So, do we, I mean, do you sneak in and take him out?" Peyton asked.

"The second part is easy, taking him out. The tricky part is getting into his mansion without triggering any alarm around his house and scaring him into the tunnel. He is paranoid. He will get his ass in the tunnel when he sees as much as a bird he doesn't know."

"Crap. How do you plan to get in there?"

"We drive in through the front gate." Eric said.

"But you said…"

Eric leaned toward Peyton. Peyton's eyes widened as Eric whispered his plan into her ear.

"No!" As soon as Eric finished, Peyton shook her head and said, "No, no. Absolutely no!"

"I don't like it, either. You got a better idea?"

Peyton bit her lips and frowned. A while later she said, "No, I don't have a better idea. But I won't do it. No."

"Then you can go to the Chinese Consulate in L.A. and ask them to escort you back to China. You can wait quietly for the Leopard to come. I hope you can remember your shooting class by the lake when the time comes. Oh, I forgot, China is a gun ban country." Eric smeared.

Peyton closed her eyes.

"Look, Peyton. They last thing I wanna do is putting you at risk, but right now, this is our only way."

Peyton opened her eyes. She gazed at the wine on the table. "Will it work?" She asked.

"Theoretically, if everything goes smooth."

"What's the worst-case scenario?"

"We both die there."

"Well, that's encouraging." She rolled her eyes. "OK, I'll do it. We all die someday, right? It's either today or 40 years later. What difference do they make?"

"You are right. But I don't want you to die. When this is over, I want you to go back to your life, to your family."

"Let's talk about the future after we get out of this alive."

"Fair enough. After we land in L.A., I'll give you a to-do list. Please, drive safely. Don't get pulled over by a cop."


4 p.m., UCT-8, Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Peyton parked her newly bought white Mustang 2017 convertible beside LAX Shooting Range. She was wearing sunglasses, a black, tight fit, low-cut Jacobs short dress and four-inch platform shoes, with a huge black shopping bag on her shoulder. She got into the shooting range and walked to the counter. All sorts of pistols hung on the wall behind the counter. On the goods shelves in the room, there were accessories related to weapons, like gloves, coats, gun oils, etc. A TV set hung on the ceiling, displaying local news channel. On the other side of a huge sound-proof and perhaps bullet-proof glass, several customers were shooting. They sounded like firecrackers through the glass.

"Good afternoon, Miss!" A man with beard stood up in the counter. "How can I help you?"

"Oh." Peyton leaned on the counter, took off her sunglasses and gave him a charming smile. "I'm here to pick up the take-aways."

"Take-aways? Sorry, Miss, we don't do take-aways." The bearded man said.

"Yes, you do." Peyton said, smiling. "Don't worry about what I am to do with the take-aways. No women, no kids."

The bearded man looked at Peyton in surprise. A few seconds later, he asked, "Who sent you?"

"The Wolf."

"The Wolf has been arrested for 12 years. He is no longer active. I need to confirm with the Lion." Said the bearded man. He picked up the phone.

Peyton took his phone and put it on the counter.

"The Lion is dead." Peyton said, looking straight into the man's astounded eyes. "I just got off a flight from Switzerland this afternoon. This is the Wolf's shopping list. I'm sure you still recognize his handwriting and signature."

The man took the piece of paper and studied it. A moment later, he said to Peyton, "Wait here. I'll be right back." He went in a door behind the counter. Five minutes later, he came out again with a suitcase.

"He is a man of taste. He orders with mathematical precision, always knowing exactly what he needs. But these…I don't understand. What does he need these for?" He paused. "OK. It is not my job to probe. There you go. Don't speed. Try not to be pulled over by a cop." The bearded man said, before he let Peyton put the suitcase into her shopping bag.

"Oh, please tell Mr. Wolf, since the Lion is dead, I am no longer bond to my duty. Tell him not to come here again. Happy hunting."

Peyton nodded and left the shooting range.


9:37 p.m., UCT-8, Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, U.S.A.

"Are you sure we are gonna do this? What if she tips him off?" Peyton was sitting on the driver's seat. She asked worriedly.

"I don't think so. Even though Littlemoon is a regular, neither the girls nor the pimp is willing to risk their lives for him. It's purely about money, not friendship." Eric said, checking his weapon.

"Oh, my God. I'm so nervous. I don't know if it's the cold or I'm nervous. I think I'm trembling."

"Relax, Peyton. You did a great job today. You did the shopping all by yourself. You know what, you look amazing tonight." Eric said.

"Amazing?" Peyton checked her makeup again in the mirror. "I look like a fucking hooker."

"You are the hooker, the deadly one." Eric smiled.

Peyton adjusted her breasts in the dress. She frowned. "Maybe I shouldn't have bought the push-up bra. This is too much."

"You look perfect."

"What if he fucks me right after I got upstairs?" Peyton asked, worriedly.

"No, he won't. Snaky's file is very thorough. He likes to watch first. Trust me. I'll get to him in 5 minutes. If I don't, it means I'm dead. Then you try to seize his gun and shoot him, then you run for your Consulate. You have memorized its address, right?"

Peyton didn't want to nod. "You get your ass up there as quickly as you can, OK?"

"Quiet. She's here." Eric cocked his gun and got off the car. Peyton watched him run across the road. A pair of headlights stopped in the middle of the road with the tires screaming. A girl in the driver's seat put her head out of the window and was about to shout "fuck you". Then she saw Eric's gun. She withdrew her head in the car and kept quiet. Peyton saw Eric rest his arms on the window of the driver's seat, talking to the girl. The girl kept nodding and, in the end, said something to Eric. Eric stood up and stepped aside. The girl made a u-turn and drove away.

Eric went back to their car. "Her name is Michelle." He said. "Remember, no matter what happens, stick to the plan. You'll be fine, Peyton." Peyton nodded. Eric walked to the trunk, opened it, and got in.

15 minutes later, Peyton stopped at the gate of 2705 Mulholland Drive. Ronnie was already waiting at the gate. He opened the gate and stepped beside the driver's seat.

"Hello!" Peyton looked up at him and waved. She managed all the slut in her and gave him a smile. Ronnie switched on the torchlight function in his cellphone, and illuminated Peyton's face, shoulder, and the low-cut part. When he put his cellphone over her thighs, she pulled her short skirt up a little, to a position that almost showed her pantie.

"See? I'm not carrying any weapon. I'm here to do business." She said, winking.

Ronnie smiled. Five seconds later, he resumed his serious face.

"Pop the trunk." He said.

"Is that really necessary? Your boss is waiting, sweetheart." Peyton's heart tugged, but she tried her best not to let it compromise her smile.

"He can wait. Pop the trunk, now!" Ronnie asked again. Peyton had to push the button. She closed her eyes and bit her lips as Ronnie walked to the trunk. Her brain went blank. She almost cried out "Eric, run!", but her sense made her not to do it, as she remembered Eric saying "no matter what happens, stick to the plan". She shut her eyes and prayed.

Ronnie opened the trunk.

"Hi! You must be Ronnie." Eric said.

Instinctively, Ronnie reached into his pocket for his gun and was ready to run, but in the next second he saw what items were in Eric's hands. In Eric's right hand was his usual weapon of choice, a silenced 9mm Beretta. In his left hand, there was a grenade, pin out, held tight so that it didn't go off. Ronnie heisted, not sure whether he should run or stay.

"Smart Ronnie, you've seen this bad little fella right here in my hand, right?" Eric said. "If you try anything, this little baby cries, and we all go to hell together. I ain't got nothing to lose, man."

Ronnie nodded.

"OK. Toss the gun into the bush."

Silently, Ronnie did as Eric told.

"Now, sit in the shotgun seat and show her the way in. Hurry, my hand is getting tired."

Ronnie nodded. He got in the Mustang. Peyton winked at him and drove in the courtyard. A while later, when Eric no longer felt the movement of the car, he put the pin back into the grenade and sighed in relief.

There were 2 other men waiting at the mansion entrance. It was a 3-storey building. Benjamin's office/bedroom was on the third floor. Peyton stopped in front of the building. She opened her side of the door, while Ronnie opened his side and was about to run.

"Ronnie!" Peyton called.

Ronnie halted.

"Do you mind parking my car into the underground garage? This is my new car."

Ronnie hesitated.

"Please. I love my car~" Peyton put out a coquetry appearance.

Ronnie sighed and sat in the driver's seat.

"Thank you, Ronnie!" Peyton waved at him, and went upstairs with the two men. Ronnie started the car and drove it into the entrance of the underground garage.

Apparently, Benjamin had doubled, or even tripled, his security force. Peyton counted at least a dozen of armed men sitting or pacing in the hallway, on the stairs, and in some of the rooms, on her way up to Benjamin's room. How could Eric get through all these men and get upstairs to save her? He was the best, but he was only one man and one gun. He was not even in his best shape. His gunshot wound had not healed yet. Her face twitched out of fear of death. Luckily, the heavy makeup on her face made her look kind of rigid, and the two men leading the way didn't bother to observe her facial expression. They had done this many times. They only wanted to get the girl to their boss's room and have the rest of the night free.

They climbed 3 levels of stairs, went through a long hallway and stopped in front of a pair of heavy double door. This is it. Peyton thought. Somehow she pulled herself together, deciding not to worry about Eric, but focus on her part of the job. She took a few deep breaths, as one of the men knocked the door.

"Come in." Benjamin's voice came out of the intercom by the door.

One of the men opened the door and signaled Peyton to go in herself. Peyton went into the room. The office and bedroom of Benjamin was square, but it reminded Peyton of the Oval Office. Under the big window, a huge desk at the size of a ping-pong table was facing the door. There was nothing on the desk. A double couch faced the desk, with a tea table in front of it. The room was dark. Only 2 wall lamps were turned on. As the door was closed behind her, the room became dead quiet.

Peyton didn't know what to do at first. She stood there like a pupil being punished by her teacher. A few seconds later, she managed to strike a more natural pose, by twisting her body a little and resting her right hand on her hip. "Hi! I'm Michelle. Ronnie called me."

"I hope you don't mind my casual dressing." Benjamin smiled, he was wearing grey pajamas, with a goblet in his hands. "I don't have a dress code around here. I like to keep it casual in my own house, especially at night. Wine?"

"Ye…yes, please."

"Are you nervous?" Benjamin narrowed his eyes and looked at Peyton. He didn't have to narrow his eyes, though. His eyes were small, even smaller behind his thick glasses. In the dime light of the room, his eyes were unreadable to Peyton.

"No. I'm not nervous. Just thirsty. I drove half way across town." Peyton squeezed out a smile.

"I can fix that." Benjamin put his head on one side and smiled back. He walked to the wine cabinet by the corner, took out another goblet, and poured some wine for Peyton.

"Thank you." Peyton took the goblet and took a sip.

"I can tell, you are new to this business." Benjamin observed Peyton from head to toe, which made her very uneasy. But she didn't allow it to show.

"Where are you from? Originally, I mean."

"Taipei. I'm from Taiwan." Peyton said.

"Ha! A hot girl from Taiwan, new to the business. I like that! Damn you, Ronnie!" Benjamin laughed. "I hope you know how to dance. Let's get started."

Benjamin sat down in the couch, and poured himself some more wine. "Get on the desk and dance for me!" He ordered.

Peyton nodded. She put the goblet on the carpet and climbed on the desk with the help of the chair. After she got up there, she dragged her skirt down a bit, which had gone too far up during the climbing. She saw a silver gun beside armrest in the couch.

Benjamin pressed a button on a remote control. The lights above Peyton's head started to rotate, scattering colorful light spots all over the room. In the meantime, a song of R&B with strong beats started to play, from the audio equipment hidden in the walls and the ceiling. The music was very loud, so loud that it reminded Peyton of the Snake's nightclub in Singapore.

It's now or never. Peyton thought. She started the routine she remembered from the dancing she took part in at one of the college New Year's Eve party. It didn't quite fit the music, though, but Peyton knew her dancing skills were not the point. She was right about that. Benjamin seemed to enjoy the amateur dancing. His eyes narrowed and narrowed until they became two seams. He sipped his wine from time to time, and his feet followed the beats. This Asian woman dancing on his desk was slim, but not skinny. The tight-fit black dress with mini skirt made her hourglass shape so tempting, and with her platform shoes with higher heels, her bare legs looked very well-proportioned. Black long hair covered her neck and shoulders, but when she occasionally pulled her hair up, the perfect neck and collarbone almost took his breath away. Her breasts didn't shudder with her routine. Benjamin knew, from his experience, that it was not because of her bra. He betted that even if she took her bra off, what beneath the bra would not drop an inch. He was desperate to find out what were beneath the dress and bra, which barely covered half of her chest. But he was a pleasure-delayer. He knew he would be much more aroused if he resisted the impulse to tear her dress into pieces right now. He preferred to wait. He would have all the time in the world to explore this girl, after the dance was over.

The song lasted for about 6 minutes. Peyton almost ran out of routines. She had to repeat them all over again. What took him so long? Whenever she felt her facial expression would lose control, she turned around as if it was part of the dancing, which bought her a few seconds to adjust. She felt like she had danced for hours. When the music stopped, she didn't know if she should feel relieved or scared of what was going to happen next. She screamed, in her head.

"Take off your dress." Benjamin said.

Peyton's heart sank into her stomach. She almost asked, "Why?" But she didn't. Instead, she thought, Damn you, Eric! She closed her eyes, and reached to the zipper on her back.

"No, no. Turn around. Do it document. Do it very slowly." He said.

Peyton turned her back on Benjamin. She frowned and bit her lips. Slowly, she unzipped her dress, and slide it off her body. Then she turned around. It was the first time she was exposed to a man other than her husband. She couldn't help raising her arms to cover herself, but then she put them down.

There was not the slightest extra bulge around her waist and belly, only the firm four pack abs. Benjamin couldn't keep his eyes off her. He knew he was going to have the greatest night of many nights.

"Now, everything else." Benjamin smeared.

Peyton nodded, and unbuttoned her bra. But she didn't take it off. She began to sob.

"What the fuck is wrong with you! I said everything else!" Benjamin yelled.

Peyton bend down, covering her chest with one hand and picked up her dress with the other.

"Bitch!" Benjamin reached out his hand for his gun.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Eric said.

Benjamin halted. Slowly, he turned around. Eric was pointing his silenced Beretta to Benjamin's head. In his left hand, lifted a plastic bag with blood dripping down.

"Put some cloths on, Peyton." Eric said. Peyton nodded and got off the desk. She buttoned up and put her dress on.

"You, step away from the gun." Eric ordered.

Benjamin stood up from the couch and stood beside the window. Peyton ran to the chair beside the door and sat down, sobbing.

"I assume, you are the checker?" Benjamin asked. He tried his best to remain calm.

"Yes and no." Eric picked up Benjamin's gun and put it in his pocket. "Take a seat."

Benjamin sat down in the couch again, Eric walked to the desk and sat on it. "I am the Wolf." Eric said.

"Mr. Wolf! The famous Wolf! I was a fan of your works!" Benjamin laughed.

"How about this piece of my work? Peyton, cover your eyes and turn around."

Peyton did as he said. Eric tossed the plastic bag toward Benjamin. It rolled a few times on the floor and stopped at Benjamin's feet.

"What the fuck is this?" Benjamin asked. He picked it up and took a peek. "Fuck! Fuck! Fucking fuck! Fuck you! Fuck you!" He dropped it as if struck by electricity, and cried at the top of his lung.

Eric took a blanket on the couch and covered it. "You can put down your hands now, Peyton." Peyton turned around.

Benjamin buried his face in his hands and wept. "Oh, Ronnie…oh, Ronnie… You bastard! You fucking son of bitch! Oh, my God. Oh…oh…"

"It was postmortem, if it makes you feel better. Now, you know who I am, and you know what I am capable of. Please, talk." Eric said, calmly.

"Talk about what!" Benjamin struck the armrest heavily.

"Antonio told me, you are the key to Crespo Cartel's money collection from his drug sales to Europe. I wanna know how you do it."

"Why should I talk to you. I'm a dead man one way or the other." Benjamin smiled bitterly.

Eric leaned forward and pointed the gun at Benjamin's knee. "Indulge me."

Benjamin sighed. A while later, he started talking. "It is simple, actually. Drugs are shipped from Reyes's farm to Africa. Then they were transshipped to Europe. The drugs are sold in Europe with the help of Ancelotti's network, and the drug money are cleaned. The money is used to purchase used cars from the United States. The payments to the American used car exporters, which are under my control, are mixed with drug money."

"Payments, with what method?" Peyton asked. "Letter of Credit? Telegraphic transfer?"

"I should know better, you are not a hooker." Benjamin smiled bitterly. "L/Cs, mostly, because banks and regulators are dump asses. They mistakenly deem payments under L/Cs are low-risk. As long as we make the documents clean, and make them look authentic, seldom any questions are asked. We even get financed sometimes."

"And Antonio used his shell companies to help you?" Peyton asked.

"Yes. After we get the payments from African shell companies, we use part of the money to purchase more used cars to export to Africa. Most of the money is used to pay for the shoes exported from China to South America. Shoes, and other consumer goods. The consumer goods are then sold in South America, in a retail scheme. Then the money is cleaned. It goes straight into drug cartels' pockets."

"Are the Chinese exporters aware that they are facilitating money laundry for South American drug cartels?" Peyton asked.

"They know shit. All they care about is getting paid in time. That I never fail them."

"I want a list of the Chinese exporters." Peyton said, coldly.

"It's in my USB drive in the drawer. It doesn't have a passcode, as I never deemed it classified. They are just some venal Chinese pigs."

"For the record, I am a Chinese. And I'm from Beijing, not Taipei." Peyton said.

"My apologies." Benjamin said.

"And one day, Reyes found out that your men were stealing from him?" Eric asked, while he put the flash memory onto his phone and copied the file.

"Yes. Reyes killed them, of course. He gave me a chance to make it right."

"Then we all know what happened next." Eric said.

"They were my colleagues, you son of a bitch!" Peyton said, grinding her teeth.

"OK." Eric sighed, and looked at his gun, signaling Peyton to turn around again. "Final question. Did you hire the Leopard?"

"No, Reyes hired him. He wanted to make sure everything went well."

"I believe you." Eric walked toward the door. Peyton heard the sound she had heard before, at her apartment, and in Jack Campbell's house. Then the noise of a heavy body dropping onto the floor.

"What took you so long? I thought I was gonna die!" Peyton looked at Eric, eyes watering.

"I'm sorry, Peyton. I came up as quickly as I could. If only you knew how many people I shot, and how many people I didn't have to shoot but shot anyway, just to get to you…"

"You have blood on you. Are you hurt?"

"These are not mine. Let's get out of here."

As soon as Peyton followed Eric out of the room and downstairs, she knew she shouldn't have blamed him for coming to her so late. Dead bodies, more than a dozen of dead bodies, lying on the stairs, in the hallway, by the doors. Each of them had as least one bullet hole in the head. Some of them were twisted into an unhuman gesture. Blood, splashes of blood, on the wallpapers, on the carpets. Weapons were dropped on the floor, most of which hadn't been fired in time.

When they went past the kitchen, Peyton saw a kitchen maid struggling, lying on the floor. She ran toward her. "You shot a kitchen maid?" Peyton asked.

"She threw a kitchen knife at me! I shot her in the shoulder. She'll live." Eric said.

Then Peyton saw the knife sticking on the door. "OK. But we need to help her! She's badly hurt!" She knelt and checked the maid. The bullet had gone through her side bones and shattered her blade bone. She was groaning painfully.

Eric took a towel in the kitchen and put it on her wound. He put her hand on the towel. "Keep it there." He said. Then he searched one of the dead guys by the kitchen door. He unlocked the cellphone he found with the dead guy's finger, dialed 911 and put it in the maid's hand.

"Let's get out of here. The cops will be here within minutes." Eric took Peyton's hand and ran toward the underground garage with her.


"How was France?"

"Great." Kevin Morgan dropped his luggage on the floor, and threw himself in the bed.

The handsome young man laid down beside him. "You look unhappy. Is it work?"

Morgan stared at the ceiling.

"You can talk to me, sweetheart. My lips are zipped." The young man whispered to Morgan's ear, who still remained silent.

The young man turned flat and stared at the ceiling with him. "Let's pretend we are watching the stars on a lawn." He reached out his hand, turned off the main light and left only one lamb on. "When was the last time we hung out together? You are barely home recently. First Singapore, then Vegas, then France. Now you are home, but you are not talking to me."

Morgan smiled. He turned over and climbed on the young man, and kissed him on the lips. The young man reacted with him passionately. He pulled up his t-shirt to take it off, but as the t-shirt was half way on his face, Morgan's phone rang.

"No no no, don't answer!" The young man tried to hold Morgan on top of him, but Morgan had already grabbed the phone.

"Get off me!" The young man snapped. Morgan sat up and set his hair which had been messed up by the young man. "Morgan."

5 seconds later he stood up. "Are you absolutely sure? OK. OK. I understand. Appreciate it, man. I owe you one." He quickly ended this call and dialed another number.

"Bennet."

"Boss? Is it confirmed? Littlemoon? Are our men there yet? The Wolf did it! He fucking did it! He is in L.A.! Right now! We must stop him!"

"Wow, wow, slow down, Kevin. Listen, the Wolf is no longer our problem. LAPD will handle it. Right now, I need you to stand down. Stop everything you are doing regarding the Wolf. Celia's team is dissolved. Tread Stone Project is shut down. It's over."

"Wha...what are you talking about? What do you mean it's over? He is FBI asset, I have been working on his case all these days!"

"It means it's over. Leave him be. It's an order! Kevin, you are tired. Get some rest. You've been doing great in the past few weeks." Bennet said calmly.

"This is bullshit!" Morgan yelled, "Littlemoon is dead. He is going after the Crespo Cartel. I must go there!"

"No, Morgan! FBI won't be able to back you up in Mexico! Stay put!"

"I'm going, with or without your help!" Morgan disconnected the call and grabbed his luggage.

"Kevin!"

Morgan halted at the door.

"If you walk out of that door, I won't be here when you come back!"

Morgan froze for 5 seconds, and left.