By Balogun Ojetade
Malcolm’s black Lamborghini Urus SUV sped through alleys and down quiet, early morning streets. His fellow Bloodman, J-Boogie—a mountain of a man that called Detroit home—rode shotgun, blowing the smoke from his fat Cuban cigar out of the SUV’s rolled down window.
In the back seat sat Jamela, the best assassin in the Bloodmen after the guild’s Professor, Stephen, Malcolm and Guildmaster Kamara himself. She was also the craziest, according to Malcolm. But he loved her anyway.
They headed southeast and, after confirming there was no surveillance behind, Malcolm circled around and headed northwest. Gradually, the darkness of the early morning dissipated and the Daba Mountains appeared, looming in the distance. Malcolm stopped in Ciqikou, a 1000-year-old town in the Shapingba District of Chongqing, China. Throngs of men, women and children walked Ciqikou's steep and narrow pedestrian streets. Even though it was early, shops were open and selling their wares—porcelain, other handicrafts, and gifts—while restaurants and tea houses gave visitors a taste of ancient Chinese cuisine.
Foregoing the tactical field uniform of the Bloodmen, Malcolm and J-Boogie wore skinny jeans, a Henley shirt and a blazer. Malcolm’s blazer was brown corduroy and J-Boogie’s was blue wool. Underneath their blazers they carried 9mm pistols and spare ammunition. Jamela wore a yellow pants suit and white blouse. She also carried a pistol with extra ammunition.
Malcolm, J-Boogie, and Jamela stepped out of the SUV and strolled down a street of shops. Red oval and onion-shaped paper lamps hung down from the rafters in front of every store.
The trio walked through the myriad of shops, which provided multiple venues for Malcolm, J-Boogie, and Jamela to exit and enter.
After completing their surveillance detection walk, they boarded a second SUV—a silver Great Wall Haval H6—then sped off.
After a short while of driving toward the mountain, the SUV came to a halt, and Malcolm, J-Boogie, and Jamela departed the vehicle. Malcolm, J-Boogie and Jamela strolled through the busy streets, scanning the area for threats.
“You know, we should really have more firepower for this,” J-Boogie said.
“That’s why I picked you and Malcolm,” Jamela said.
“Your asset is coming alone, right?” J-Boogie asked.
“That’s the plan,” she said calmly.
“But he could show up with others,” J-Boogie said.
Jamela walked as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “Anything is possible.”
J-Boogie shook his head. “We should have more firepower.”
They passed an elderly street vendor selling dumplings and various flavors of bubble tea from a cart under a huge umbrella. Jamela and her partners cut across the street to a restaurant called Nanluoguxiang.
Inside, they tried to appear nonchalant while observing the customers for signs of danger. There were only a handful of diners in the place and half of the tables remained empty.
“Did you charge the masks fully before we left the hotel?” J-Boogie whispered. “Three Black folks would stand out like a sore thumb in here.”
“In here?” Malcolm said. “In all of Ciqikou.”
“Y’all trippin’, acting like this is my first protection gig.”
“It is,” Malcolm said. “That’s why you asked us to help.”
“Well, it’s not my first gig,” Jamela said, raising her index finger skyward. “I don’t know why somebody would hire a guild of assassins to protect them, anyway.”
Because we’re experts at protecting ourselves and each other out here, so they figure we can do the same for them.”
“I guess I can for what we’re being paid,” Jamela said.
“I heard that,” Malcolm said.
“So did you charge the masks?” J-Boogie asked, frowning.
“Yeah, J-Boog,” Jamela said. “Chill. To these folks, you’ll look like a bigger version of Ludi Lin or some shit until our asset is safe and we’re on the way home.”
They sat in a booth away from the windows. The waiter arrived, and Malcolm, speaking fluent Mandarin, ordered drinks while they “waited for a friend.”
J-Boogie looked at Jamela and quietly asked, “How sure are you that Jianlian is gonnao show?”
“Fifty-fifty,” she said.
J-Boogie gave Malcolm a look of concern.
“That’s what she always says,” Malcolm said. “The assets gonna show.”
“Debrief us again,” J-Boogie said.
Jamela rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Like I said before,” Jamela began. “Jianlian, former COO, had a falling out with the CEO of Yibin Insurance after announcing he was leaving Yibin and was going to start his own insurance firm. They killed his wife and child to punish him. He knows he’s next.”
“Why didn’t he hire Hung Gerk Kune to protect him?” J-Boogie asked.
“Because Yibin had already hired them to kill him.” Jamela replied.
They drank and talked quietly for about an hour, then a man with a mustache and goatee wearing a blue hoodie, baggy jeans and blue skate shoes walked into the restaurant, fidgeting as he glanced nervously around.
“That’s him,” Jamela said.
Jamela locked eyes with the man and nodded slightly.
Jianlian rushed toward her table, almost bumping into a waiter. He sat at the booth beside J-Boogie.
“You ready to go?” Jamela asked.
“I don’t know,” Jianlian said.
The waiter interrupted, handing them menus, then left to give them a moment to decide.
Jianlian’s eyes darted around the restaurant before he gave his menu to Jamela. “Not hungry.”
When the waiter returned, they all ordered in Mandarin and the waiter left to take their orders to the kitchen.
Jamela leaned over the table and spoke quietly to Jianlian, “We can protect you. You can live in the US like we talked about.”
“You don’t know Yibin,” Jianlian said. “They will find me.”
“They won’t find you,” Jamela said. “I’ll make sure.”
“How can you make sure?”
Two stern-eyed burly men walked into the restaurant and studied the interior.
Malcolm discreetly unstrapped his holster and drew his pistol. He held it on his lap under the table. J-Boogie’s slight movements indicated that he was doing the same.
Crack! Jianlian’s drinking glass erupted. One of the restaurant windows had shattered.
Malcolm crouched and brought his weapon up to search for targets. Jianlian fell out of his chair, and Jamela pulled him away from the line of fire. J-Boogie flipped over the table with a loud thud, creating a shield for them. One waiter froze and the other dove to the deck as two customers dashed for the side door.
The stern-eyed burly pair seemed to have spotted Jianlian, and they opened their leather dusters, exposing QBZ-95 automatic bullpup-style rifles, and then raised them in Jianlian’s direction.
Using an upturned table for cover, Malcolm shot the quickest-moving burly man twice in the chest before shifting to his slower partner and shooting him once in the chest.
Malcolm adjusted his position for a clearer line of sight and aimed at the slower man’s face. He squeezed the trigger.
The man’s head snapped back and he fell, unmoving.
With the same efficiency, Malcolm dispatched the other man.
J-Boogie fired in the direction of the shattered window.
Jamela and Jianlian crawled away, toward the kitchen, following the retreat of waiters. The remaining customers fled the restaurant through the side door.
Outside, more men with QBZs descended on the restaurant. Their muzzles flashed. Inside, windows imploded, and a salvo of projectiles ripped into Malcolm and J-Boogie’s table. The wood wouldn’t hold much longer before the bullets broke through.
Malcolm and J-Boogie scrambled to another table, and Malcolm flipped it to its side. He and J-Boogie used it as a shield while they fired in the direction of the muzzle flashes. Malcolm’s gun ran empty, and with a fluid motion, one hand ejected the empty magazine while the other brought up a fresh one. He inserted the full magazine and depressed the slide stop release. The slide sprang forward and a new bullet loaded into the chamber.
Jamela and Jianlian had disappeared into the kitchen. Malcolm and J-Boogie turned toward the kitchen to make their escape.
A loud woosh sounded behind them—the distinctive sound of a rocket-propelled grenade. The RPG exploded. Its concussion caused Malcolm to stumble. On either side of Malcolm and J-Boogie, chairs and tables scattered as if thrown by a typhoon, but the Bloodmen remained on their feet.
They scrambled into the kitchen and joined Jamela. Jianlian was under a nearby table, shaken, but he seemed unharmed. Waiters and kitchen staff were hunkered down for safety. Malcolm squatted as he threw open the back door and aimed his weapon outside. Bullets snapped the air where he would’ve been standing, and he spotted ruptures of light in the direction from where the shots had come. Instinctively, he fired at the flickers, and the outline of a man dropped. Malcolm glanced down the opposite way of the shady alley where a frightened woman froze in fear. “Clear!”
He glanced behind to find Jamela and Jianlian following while J-Boogie brought up rear security. Malcolm slipped into the alley and headed in the direction of their vehicle. Gunshots sounded behind them, the smaller caliber of J-Boogie’s pistol, but Malcolm had his responsibility in front and couldn’t neglect it. He trusted J-Boogie to cover their six.
Malcolm made his way around the block to the car and jumped in the driver’s seat. J-Boogie swung open the back door and covered Jamela and Jian as they piled in the back. J-Boogie slammed the SUV’s door then took his seat up front beside Malcolm.
Malcolm burned rubber, observing everything in front while J-Boogie kept a lookout behind.
“Anyone wounded?” Malcolm asked.
“Jianlian and I are okay,” Jamela said.
When J-Boogie didn’t reply, Malcolm took his eyes off the road ahead of them and looked over at his friend. “Boog, you okay?”
J-Boogie faced the window, but he wasn’t moving.
“Boog?” Malcolm asked.
“Did you see that RPG explode right around us?” J-Boogie asked. “Shit exploded on both sides of us, but we didn’t explode.”
“We got lucky,” Malcolm said.
“Naw, that wasn’t luck,” J-Boogie said.
“We’ve always been lucky,” Malcolm said.
“That was a miracle.” J-Boogie said.
“You don’t believe in miracles,” Malcolm chuckled.
“I do now,” J-Boogie said. “Don’t they have miracles in your Ifa… and your Vodou, Jamela?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Malcolm said. “But—”
“Shit blew up on both sides of us, but we didn’t blow up,” J-Boogie said. “Doesn’t that qualify?”
“Shit happens,” Malcolm replied.
“That wasn’t like ordinary ‘shit happens’ kind of shit. That was more like the ancestors protecting us kind of shit.”
“Okay, if you say so, it was a miracle.” Malcolm said.
“I say so,” J-Boogie said decisively.
They rode south and switched vehicles in a small town before heading to the airport.
“Hey Jamela,” J-Boogie said.
“What’s up?” Jamela responded.
“Tell me about Mama Cécile and Haitian Vodou.”
Malcolm shook his head and sped up the road.
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