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RUYI PAWN

Snippets, Chapter 1

Zhuhai, China

“Twenty kuai for my Qing dynasty jade? Save us both the trouble and just rob me.”

The first thing that popped into my head when he walked in was ooh, pretty. Almost as pretty as the lovers in the manga Siu Suet, my coworker, read every week.

Five skull pounding minutes with him later though, and I just wanted the kid gone.

I opted not to give him any more ammo to shoot his mouth off with, and kept mine shut. The sooner he left, the sooner I could get back to the Korean drama I was currently enthralled by. Who knew a millennia old alien falling in love with a smart ass Korean movie star would make such titillating TV?

“Are you going to call your boss now?” His voice sounded oddly hollow.

I shook my head and unlocked my phone. “My manager.” I was told never to disturb Ms. Bai unless the pawnshop was on fire or someone was dying.

“No!” He protested, “You need to call your boss.”

When I looked up in surprise, he offered me a sheepish grin. More sedately, he said, “Your manager won’t have the authority either.” He checked his watch. Voice grim, he added, “and I have somewhere I need to be soon.”

I took a second to consider his words. “Live pawn or dead pawn?” Live was when an item was held as collateral. Dead was when it was sold outright.

He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. It happened another handful of times. “Dead.”

I nodded. Ms. Bai would definitely need to come in for this.

“I’m Gao Zheng’s son, Gao Ming, and I need your help!” The kid yelled, interrupting me.

Ms. Bai spoke before I could explain. “He’ll learn soon enough that though fate leads the willing, it hunts down and drags the unwilling.” She exchanged a few unintelligible words with someone. “I’ll be in touch by dusk.”

The line went dead before I could even process what she’d said.

I cleared my throat to stall for time. I wasn’t sure what that was all about but one thing was clear: he came with the intention of contacting Ms. Bai. The artifact was a red herring. Still, I couldn’t find it in me to be upset with him. Not when he looked like his entire world hung on the words I was about to speak. Not when I had a feeling those same words would most likely cause his entire world to come crashing down. I winced. The hopeful anticipation on his face unbearable to witness.

Deciding to just rip the Band-Aid off, I looked him straight in the eyes, and relayed her message to him. His facial expression cycled through a series of emotions. He was at first defiant, almost angrily so. Then that changed into a slow resignation and acceptance. It was kind of sad until I told him she’d contact him, at which point his optimism made me feel almost hopeful.

“Thank you. And I’m sorry for wasting your time,” he said, shifting his feet.

I shrugged. “No biggie. Business was slow today anyway.”

He lifted his fingertips to his temple in a semblance of a salute, and dipped his head in apology. “Well, it had to be said anyway.”

He was almost at the door when he turned half around. Eyes sparkling, mischievous grin on his face, he sang, “the alien goes back to his planet in the end!” And left with his bodyguards trailing after him.

That little shit.