“I’m sure that this plan will make us money,” Xi Zhu assured Sheng Deng. “More money than anyone in the triads has made off the national tournaments in decades.”
Sheng Deng sighed inwardly while keeping his face impassive. Despite his youth he was already a full member of the Shadow Dragon triad with permission to run his own small sub-organisation and Xi Zhu desperately wanted to be a member of that group. It would give the smaller, slighter man a status boost he desperately wanted and tie him to Sheng Deng’s rising star. As a result, Xi Zhu was always coming up with schemes to show his usefulness and he had just enough influence of his own that Sheng Deng had to pay attention to him.
Unfortunately, there was always a flaw in Xi Zhu’s schemes. It was unfortunate because some of his ideas were really quite ingenious and if he’d only share them before putting them in motion, then a second set of eyes might avoid the flaws. This was why Sheng Deng was standing, inwardly apprehensive, outside the Chan Tzu Memorial Gi Stadium waiting see Xi Zhu’s scheme unfold.
The Khem boy, Rau Wang, emerged from the Stadium alone, under instruction from his gi teacher, Master Lao, to hail a taxi while that gentleman waited for his checked item to be retrieved from the cloak room. Xi Zhu muttered to Sheng Deng that he’d arranged for the cloak room attendant to take their time. Nobody much was around and Rau Wang was concentrating on the passing traffic, hailing taxis being something he’d not done before this trip. The thugs had flanked him quietly and efficiently before he’d even noticed they were there.
“Boy,” the one who was speaking was a broad man, his short hair almost spiky over his scalp, and his voice was both business-like and menacing, “my boss has a message for you.”
“I’m sorry, sirs,” Rau Wang made a slight bow to the speaker, “I don’t believe I know your boss.”
“That doesn’t matter. He says to tell you, you throw your fight tomorrow morning or bad things will happen to you and your teacher.” The man smiled in an unfriendly manner. “Things gi won’t be able to help you with.”
Rau Wang blinked hard but spoke carefully, clearly hoping that he could buy enough time to get out of this. “You want me to throw a gi fight. In the national championships. In the semi-final of the national championships.”
“Sorry kid, but yeah,” the thug seemed almost sympathetic as he shrugged, “but you’re only sixteen. There’ll be other years.”
“Not if I throw this fight and I’m caught,” replied Rau Wang hotly.
From his vantage point beside Xi Zhu, Sheng Deng asked, almost to himself, “What’s he doing with his hands?”
“With his hands?” Xi Zhu looked confused.
At that moment a young man in grey trousers and the upper half of a set of blacks, a foreigner by his straw-coloured hair, loped out of the building, paused and looked around, then hurried over to Rau Wang and the two men menacing him. “What’s going on here?” Surprisingly, the newcomer’s accent placed him as a native of the capital.
“Nothing that concerns you,” rumbled the man who hadn’t spoken to Rau Wang.
“I’m a trainee with the Illustrious Board of Referees,” replied the newcomer. “Any attempt to predetermine the outcome of a gi bout, match or tournament is my business.”
“Then you’ll make a good example to show the boy what he’s in for if he doesn’t cooperate,” the thug reached for the straw-haired young man, only to have him slip away from under his reaching fingers. “If you make this harder than it needs to be, I’ll just go harder on you when I catch you.”
The straw-haired young man retorted, “What do you think I’m going to do to you?” Then he made a practised circular movement with his arms while doing something with his hands and an almost syncopated set of steps with his feet. “There,” he threw at the boy over his shoulder, “I’ve put up bout shields – nothing you need to do to these two will touch anyone outside.”
“We can do that?” Rau Wang perked up.
“No you can’t!” The thug facing the trainee referee made another grab for him, missed again and got a punch of air to his solar plexus in return.
“Our pretournament briefing says we can, to the limits of reasonable force,” replied the straw-haired referee. “What would you like those limits to be?”
Rau Wang took a blow to the side of the head from the other thug and then wrapped his assailant’s wrists together with a band of water. He jumped over the man’s leg sweep and used another ribbon of water to loop around his feet and pull them together. He hoped his opponent didn’t struggle, the edges of his water ribbon were sharp. Turning back to the other pair, he found the trainee referee had the other thug on the ground and winded and was saying, “You can surrender, you know.”
“We’ve got friends watching,” snarled back the man he was speaking to.
“You don’t imagine I’m alone either, do you?” The trainee referee almost sounded amused. “The way Rau Wang threw his voice, everyone in this half of the stadium probably heard what he said.” His voice dropped almost an octave as he added, “I’m just the first one here.”
Rau Wang took the opportunity to look around. There were a few onlookers but not many: a pair of teenage girls trying to hide behind a bus sign, both in blacks and one with her hair up in dumpling buns; a sad looking man just along from them, also in blacks, who was grinding out a cigarette under his heel and looked as if he’d decided to do something; around from the bus stop and hidden from it by the protruding front of a specialist sports apothecary’s shop were two men, one of whom was the man named Sheng Deng whom Master Que had warned him about earlier in the evening; and close to them, but closer to Rau Wang, were two more men who looked like thugs. A lot could depend on who did what in the next few moments.
Xi Zhu turned to his other two men, but before he could speak Sheng Deng put a restraining hand on his arm and said, “No, time to withdraw. More referees are coming and then there’ll be police.”
“We can still pull this off,” protested Xi Zhu. “Besides, I can’t abandon my men.”
“Getting away and getting them a good lawyer isn’t abandoning them,” pointed out Sheng Deng. “You can choose to stay, but they’re not my men and I’m going.”
As Sheng Deng departed, two senior referees still in their official robes emerged from the stadium accompanied by a security guard. In the distance the thin, unsettling wail of an emergency vehicle siren clearing a path through traffic became audible. That, and the sight of Rau Wang wrapping their second colleague’s ankles together with a band of water decided the second two thugs; they moved back to Xi Zhu and the senior one said urgently, “Boss, we have to go before the cops get here. Brothers Jiao and Ye will need help we can’t give them if we’re in prison too.”
Reluctantly, Xi Zhu gave the order to withdraw.