Trapped in The Lost City

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 29, 2016

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Submitted: June 29, 2016

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Trapped in The Lost City

 

Chapter 1

I woke up miserably to the sound of a distant airplane, its engine roaring above the mighty labyrinthine - Kowloon Walled City.  It smelled of early morning dew and milk tea, from the tea shop downstairs. I breathed in the mixture of sweet smells, as it calmed my mind immediately. I glanced at my watch, hoping it wasn’t time to get up and work again. ‘5.58 A.M’, it read.  I yawned, rubbing my eyes and massaging my temples. Two more minutes of rest. I turned my head over to Grandma, who was still fast asleep, her soft gray hair covering her face like a mysterious black veil. I started to lie down again, on the half-broken and damp mattress with bits of spring popping out in the middle.  My eyes began to close, slowly, slowly…But I woke up promptly as a deafening voice screeched out my name.  

 

“DENNIS!” I jumped up, startled, shaking the flimsy bed.  The ear-bursting yelp might as well had waken poor Grandma up, who was beckoning me to check outside.  I obeyed at her orders, even though I was half afraid that the pesky children next door would throw rocks at me again. As fast as one’s legs can carry one, I withdrew a soggy box labelled, ‘CLOTHES’ in scrawly handwriting from a tall stack of cardboard boxes, and laid it’s contents on my bed.  I got dressed in my usual work uniform: an oversized white vest and blue shorts, and worn-out rubber boots, which Grandma found at our front door one day, and are way too small for me.  I tip-toed to the door, my lucky pebble that my late-mother had given me, inside my pocket.  The pebble felt rough and warm inside my hand, as my palm closed around it.  It didn’t look anything special; just a normal rock perfect for playing hopscotch.  “Dennis! Come out, or else!” I picked up my pace again, scurrying towards the door.  I placed my hands on the cold, metal doorknob, breathing hard. SQUEAK! I opened a tiny gap, good enough to peek through.  My eyes scanned around, looking for any suspicion.  No annoying neighbors...but it was…an adult?  I paused.  Who could it be? I looked carefully at him again.  He had a bushy mustache and fine, round tortoiseshell glasses.  He was bald and had a tiny pimple on the top of his pointy, witch-like nose.  It must be...Mr. Chan - my boss! I wanted to disappear into a tiny speck of dust, just so he wouldn’t see me and slap me painfully on my cheek, like he did last time when I was a minute late for work.  But he moved fast and steady, and his eyes caught mine. “Little boy!” He hollered, marching forwards towards the door.  I shut my eyes quickly and ducked down frantically behind the door, as if it was a shield, defending a beastly dragon.  But he saw me, and briskly thrust the door open with one great shove.  “You! Late for work! Now, now, don’t shake your head and say no. Look at the clock! It’s six o’ three! Go to work now, or I’ll beat you up and you’ll be sorry!” He vociferated, with bits of spit flying out of his mouth.  I followed his instructions, like sheep to its shepherd, fearing what would happen if I didn’t. I managed to mumble a quick goodbye to Grandma, before Mr. Chan could thump me painfully on the head.

 

Gingerly, I followed him down Main Street, as the path twisted and turned.  The winding paths soon led me into a dark alley way.  But something illuminated the unlighted streets, and stood out between the narrow and tightly-packed buildings.  It was the neon sign of my Father’s general store, where he was most famous for making homemade lemonade.  I work there for fifteen hours a day, under the commands and orders of the demanding Mr. Chan.  I shivered at the thought of this, feeling my skin tensen up.  Although it used to be my Father that was the boss, everything is different now.  Ever since Father became stressed and depressed about his failing business at the time, he decided to try some drugs.  Before he knew it, he was addicted to heroin.  No one dared to stop him - he even joined the triad - though that was what Grandma explained to me. Then out of nowhere, Mr. Chan appeared, and said to us all workers, “I will be your boss until Mr. Lau is back. I am your boss now, so you must obey and listen to me.” We all listened, even though we had know idea how he came to us.  Was it fate or just rotten luck? Oh how I miss my Father! My eyes welled with tears, as a lone tear trickled down on my cheek.  “Oi!” It was Mr. Chan.  I turned around, snapping back to reality at once.  I wiped the tear off my cheek with the back of my hand, smearing a little too hard, which left a bright red mark on my face.  “Go fetch some fish balls for me. I’m starving.” I glanced at his plump belly.  It looked as if he just ate an entire three-course dinner - how could he possible be starving now? “Yes.” I replied, hesitantly.  He handed me a two dollar coin.  I stared at the carving of Queen Elizabeth the Second on the coin, her crown reflecting on a tinge of sunlight, which was rare to have sunlight in Kowloon Walled City.  Mr. Chan shot a menacing look at me, expecting me to hurry up.  I dashed towards the fish ball store, just around the corner.  It was next to a dental clinic where they had odd-looking false teeth and retainers exhibited on their display window.  I was hoping to see Mr. Lee again, the faithful fish ball maker and store owner with his son, Nick.  But as soon as I stepped inside the tiny store, I could sense trouble.  Mr. Lee and his son was nowhere to be seen.  A nearby television was blaring on its loudest volume, making it hard to get my thoughts straight.  Baskets of fish balls were placed on a nearby table with empty cardboard boxes.  They looked like they were supposed to be delivered ages ago, seeing the fish balls were starting to mold.  The walls were damp and moss-filled, some of the paint peeling of. Newspaper clippings were pinned to the wall.  Newspaper clippings of Mr. Lee and his well-known store. I inspected his steel mailbox at the front of his store. For some strange reason, it was filled with letters to the brim. Could it be fan mail? No, it couldn’t be. I’ve been hearing that Mr. Lee’s business haven’t been going on very well nowadays. Bills? No, it couldn’t be. Nick has a job now, and he probably would have taken care of the bills by now. But where are they? I began to panic.  Mr. Chan would murder me if I didn’t do what he wanted. What should I say to him? No one was there? But he absolutely wouldn’t believe a kid who poured lemonade into plastic cups for a living.

 

I began to leave, but I seemed to have slipped over something on the green-tile floor.  I lay there on the hard, stone floor, staring straight at the ceiling.  But I heard something.  Something like...footsteps.  I wanted to get up and not make a fool of myself, but strangely, my body stayed put, as if it had grown roots to the grown.  The footsteps got closer. Pitter-patter pitter-patter… I looked around, searching for anything I can pull myself up from.  Pitter-patter pitter-patter... There was a sudden pause.  I hope that person didn’t see me. “Hey.” Someone whispered in a gruff voice. “Hey,” He repeated again. I held my breath. “Kiddo, what on earth are you doing here?” His voice sounded worried and alert, as if he was trying to hide something. “I-I er...wanted to get fish balls…” I stuttered, still lying on the floor. My tense body seemed to have loosened up.  Maybe he wasn’t so bad, afterall.  I tried to drag myself up again, pushing against a table leg. “Fish balls, eh? How many do you want?” The man asked, picking his teeth with a toothpick.  I paused.  Mr. Chan didn’t tell me how many he wanted. Well, how much good can a two dollar coin give you?

“Um...how many can I buy with two dollars?” I asked.

“Four.” The man replied.

I walked over to the man, who was scooping some fish balls out from a tub and placing the fish balls in a styrofoam cup.  As long as there wasn’t any mold in the fishballs, I didn’t care.

“Here ya go, kiddo.” He said, handing me the cup with a wooden skewer.  I fumbled in my pocket, fishing for the coin.  The man stared at me suspiciously, as if I was trying to play a trick on him. “There.” I said, handing him the coin. He examined it, looking carefully at the coin, scanning it for any scratches or marks. “Good. Nice to meet you. What is your name?”

“Dennis.” I mumbled, not paying attention, as I headed towards the front of the store. I hot footed down the never-ending alleways, as electrical wires bobbed above my head.  Advertisements hung over roof’s which swayed left and right, making creeky noises.  Sacks and wagons stayed put on the sides of the narrow alleyways with bits of dried leaves scattered on the stone floor.  Mr. Yip must be ‘stealing’ electricity again.  That selfish man...hiring workers to tap electricity from the public.  I groaned.  The thoughts of going to the rusty standpipe to wash our clothes with Grandma made me tremble.  Putrid smells drifted from the pipe, leaking onto our bodies, as if we’ve just rolled onto a pile of cow dung.  Oh! And all of those cat-sized rats! Dragging their pot bellied stomachs along the floor.  But every now and then, a rat might come scurrying across the floor so fast before you could even scream.  ‘The Rat Haven’ Grandma and I used to call Kowloon Walled City.  It was a rat’s dream to breed here. Food scraps littered everywhere. Human excrement. Litter. Practically everything.  I hate rats...live or dead, I just hate them!

 

Chapter 2

“Oi Dennis! Come over here NOW! I need to ask you something!” Mr. Chan screeched from his private office inside Father’s general store. Feeling humble, I knocked on his recently polished door. “Is it Dennis? Come in! I need to talk to you!” He roared.  I opened the door warily, careful not to break or touch anything. “Sit.” Mr. Chan said, pointing to a blue leather swivel chair, opposite him.  I gulped, sitting down on the swivel chair.  I looked around.  His office was painted lime green, with bits of paint peeling off due to the dampness.  I glanced at my feet, his floor so clean and shiny that I could see my guilty face, reflected on it.  His office was very blank, with only his table and an old bookshelf, with only half of it filled.  Those books must have been second-hand books, since they all looked musty and moldy.  A strong smell of joss sticks and incense wafted from his window.  It must have been from Tin Hau Temple, opposite Father’s store.

“Listen, boy.” Mr. Chan said, with his slight Chinese accent.

“Yes?” I quivered, my voice shaking.  Mr. Chan stopped and looked me at the eye.  He held out the styrofoam cup with three fish balls left, one half-bitten already. “What do you see little boy? Anything?” He asked, smiling his false smile, revealing his gold tooth, which glistened in the bright lights of his office.  I stared at him, thinking this was all part of a joke.  I heard him mutter something in Cantonese under his breath - something rude.  A curse word. “No,” I replied. “Nothing.” I gulped, waiting for the worst.

“Nothing? You stupid boy! Ben dan! Leave at once! You are not permitted to work at my store again! You’re not worthy material! Shoo! Now!” He snapped, his face a shade of crimson red.

“But...but…” I stared at him, dumbfounded.  I had to take a moment to realize what I was hearing. You are not permitted to work at my store again! Those sharp words rang in my head. Words suddenly crammed into my mind, giving me a throbbing headache. Words like, ‘bills’, ‘money’ and ‘Grandma’. I wanted to rush home and tell Grandma all about this and how horrid Mr. Chan is, but when I tried to get up from my seat, I stayed put.  I didn’t dare move.  Mr. Chan thrust the styrofoam cup at me, the soup spilling all over my shirt. I looked at the fish balls closely, then I noticed something. It was a pink coloured...rat’s foot? My mind buzzed with fear, suddenly remembering those large rats scurrying around the dirty gravel floor.  I wanted to tell him I was sorry, but once I opened my mouth, nothing came out.  He walked over to where I was sitting, pointing at me and laughing hysterically.  But then I felt a piercing slap against my cheek, and everything went pitch black…

 

“Er...Dennis? Hello? Are you awake? Dennis? Mama, he’s awake!” I heard distant mumbles beside me. I realized I was lying down on a bed, but it didn’t seem like my own.  I recognized that voice. It sounded just like my mother’s.  Her voice so soft and sweet. But it couldn’t be - she died when I was two in Tianjin, while Grandma, Father and I moved to Hong Kong.  I slowly opened my eyes, wishing with all my heart I could see my mother again, with her soft hands brushing gently through my spiky, unruly hair.  But it wasn’t. It was Hannah Cho, my good friend John’s six-year-old sister, who lives across the street. I looked around, confused. Where am I? I thought. I’m not at Mr. Chan’s office anymore…

“Hannah?” I asked, my voice hoarse and sore. “Where am I?” My vest soaked with sweat, which made it stick to my chest. A woman came and stood next to Hannah. It must be Auntie Cho, her mother.

“Dennis. You are at our house. We found you lying outside the dump in front of your father’s store. We brought you here so you could rest for a while. Though we tried to contact your grandma, she wasn’t at your house.” She explained. I nodded, even though I didn’t quite remember what had happened.

“What time is it?” I asked Hannah as I looked around their tiny house.  It was filled with boxes and shoes, all sprawled on the dusty floor.  I wonder how it felt like to live in a cramped flat with two teenage siblings and a newborn baby brother.

“It’s ten o’ clock. We found you at around eight while I helped Mama buy shrimp for the dim sum shop.” She replied, smiling at me.  Her mother ran a dim sum shop downstairs, and Hannah would always volunteer to help run errands in the shop.

“Where’s John?” I asked again.

“He’s at the shop downstairs, helping us make ‘haa gao.’” She answered, who then walked away over to where her mother was in the kitchen.  Though it wasn’t exactly a kitchen - just a few pots and pans on a cupboard stocked with canned food.  I tried to clear my mind. So many things had happened.  Then I remembered the rat’s foot, and Mr. Chan yelling at me.  I had to think of something fast - I had to prove Mr. Chan wrong and that I am worthy material.  I stood up slowly, my body aching.  I found a piece of crumpled paper in my pocket and a pen on top of a box.  I scribbled down a note for Hannah and Auntie Cho:

 

Thanks for taking care of me. I will now be returning home to do something. Pls. help me tell John to meet me on the roof tmrw. and bring his jump rope.

Thanks,

Dennis

 

I placed the note on the pillow with the pen, and raced back home.

 

Chapter 3

I digged for my old knapsack on the very bottom of my ‘CLOTHES’ box, which smelled of rotten mothballs from last summer.  It was the perfect timing.  Grandma was probably at the Aged People Centre playing mahjong with her friends, and I had to do this in secret.  It was a matter between life and death; anyone who catches me and I’ll be toast.  I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. My mind was between a busy debate about whether I should do this or not.  But once again, I decided I must do it - it was my only chance of proving Mr. Chan wrong, and to save Father’s business. My mission was fairly simple but yet complicated: I had to return to the fish ball store and spy on the makers - I had to collect evidence before I could tell anyone, or else it wouldn’t be valid, and no one would believe me. I learnt that from the English book Spies and Mysteries: The Beginners Guide that Grandma bought me when I was nine.  Though I was somewhat sure it had nothing to do with Mr. Lee - why on earth would a humble man do such a horrid thing? Poisoning people into eating rats! How ridiculous! I pivoted around, searching the tiny flat.  I quickly grabbed a torch, a notepad and a few other things with my lucky pebble, and shoved them inside my knapsack.  I stuffed my foot into my one and only pair of boots, which only got up to my ankles. They were way too tight so it made the tip rub against my toes.  I cringed at the sight of this, which made me think of Grandma’s bound feet. It made her limp helplessly from place to place.  But there was no time to waste.  I had to get there before anyone get’s there.

 

I glanced at my watch.  Ten forty-six.  I was nearly there.  Just a few more turns…

SMACK!

I accidentally bumped into someone...Mr. Lee? Both of our faces were shocked and confused at the same time. “W-what are you doing here?” I asked, puzzled.  Mr. Lee frowned at me and didn’t reply. To my surprise, he turned away and ran back towards where he came from! I gaped at him, dumbfounded. What is up with him? He’s never like that.  I mused.  Still feeling rather confused and bewildered, I continued to traverse along the narrow pathways, dodging past people and workers with wagons.  It wasn’t long before I arrived at the fishball store.  I studied the blank room.  There was not a single soul.  But there were audible whispers and murmurs coming from a room inside the store.  I stepped inside, nearly slipping on the newly polished green-tiled floor.  The whispers were getting louder and louder by every minute.  It started to sound like a group argument.  Words like, ‘fish balls’, ‘drugs’, ‘rat room’ and ‘sabotage’ were repeated often.  I stood close to the wall dividing it with flats where people lived.  Until a strange man appeared at the front of the store.  He was wearing a smart-looking grey tuxedo, which made him look like he was someone important. “Hello? Anyone?” He called out with his strong, husky voice. That voice...I’ve heard it before...sometime ago...a long time ago. But I had to find the perfect hiding spot! Hide where furniture is at least covering your head.  I recalled, remembering a fact box in Spies and Mysteries: A Beginner’s Guide.  I searched around desperately...Ah! There! By the tables and boxes of fish balls! I hurriedly ducked behind the table.  I had to sit down then crouch my head, mainly because I was too tall for my age. ‘Just like your father.’ Grandma would say while ruffling my hair.  “Tall, strong and wise.” But being tall wasn’t the most ideal thing, considering I had to be very careful.  A spy always thinks before acting.  At least I hope the man didn’t spot me.

 

CLICK CLACK! CLICK CLACK!

It was the clicking of a black leather shoe that the Husky Man was wearing.

CLICK CLACK! CL-

The clicking halted, making the scene silent and mysterious.  Husky Man seemed to be looking straight at the table, but he didn’t seem to notice me hiding.  But I couldn’t see his face either.  Though not very clearly.  I eyed my watch, trying not to make any visible movements.  It had been exactly fifteen minutes since I left home.  I gripped the shoulder strap of my knapsack tightly, the cool and soft leather rubbing in my hands.  At that very moment, a strange man stood at the front of the store.  Husky Man smiled as he went over to the front of the store to greet him.  The two soon got into a rather secretive conversation.  I tried to lean forward to listen on what they were saying, but they communicated in nods and whispers, which was barely perceptible from behind the table.  They soon emerged stealthily into the room where Husky Man came from.  I began to think something was up…

 

Chapter 4

After the two people disappeared into the room, I stood up, as quiet as a mouse.  I tip-toed across the floor, over baskets and chairs which were sprawled all sprawled across the floor.  It was as if I was a spy, traversing across a laser maze.  I sprinted towards the hidden door, where again, muffled voices could be heard.  Daringly, I went as close as possible towards the door, pressing my ear against the cold, wooden material.

“I know! That’s the whole point! Why don’t you get it? That man is going to earn us a fortune! It’s so simple!” A woman, this time shouted.

“Yes, Lai Ling, it’s too simple. We just have to stuff a whole load of rats inside lame fish balls! That kid Denny - no wait, Dennis, didn’t even notice! People here are so gullible!” A man with a child-like voice exclaimed.

My ears jerked up.  Dennis? There’s something to do with me? My face grew pale, with beads of sweat trickling down. What could I have done? What are they going to do? My mind buzzed with thoughts.  It was all because of my stupidity! I gave them my name!

“You’re absolutely right, Dai Lo. That half-witted man is going to be our slave! We’re going to get all the drugs we want - It’s our heaven!” Another man bellowed out.  I leaned in closer, wanting to listen to more of the conversation.

“But...but...Are you sure? I’m not persuaded…” Husky Man mumbled.

“Don’t mind him, everyone. Let’s just do our job. Like I said before, that man is going to earn us a fortune!”

I continued to lean in further.  Somehow, I had to get to the bottom of this.  But how? I just needed - BANG! My head banged into the wooden door.  I felt for my face, but I couldn’t.  Instead, my head whirled round and round, making me lose my balance.  Footsteps could be heard seconds later.  But I didn’t have time to move - I couldn’t move.  My feet stayed rooted to the ground, and even when I tugged, they wouldn’t budge.  It was too late.  The door thrust open, and there stood a tall lady with a short purple dress, which made her bottom stick out.  I would have laughed if John was here, but I was too scared to now.  She looked at me as if I grew a third eye. “What do you want, kid?” She asked, glaring at me.  She stomped her foot like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and seven fierce looking men stood behind her.  But Husky Man wasn’t there.  All seven men had tattoos plastered all over their bodies. “Bring that pipsqueak to the rat room.” Someone from the gang mumbled.  He must have been Dai Lo and ruled the gang, as he looked at me in the eye and smirked.  Standing behind him was the person who sold the fish balls to me earlier this morning.  I knew that man was up to something! He copied what Dai Lo did, smirking and glaring at me.  Lai Ling stepped forward, wobbling in her funky purple high heels.  She knocked me down using her fist, which felt as hard as a rock.  I fell face down on the ground with a trail of blood trickling down my nose.  My numb body lay there on the hard, stone floor, motionless.  But I didn’t care.  All I cared about was proving Mr. Chan wrong.  Lai Ling kicked my shin, the pointy heel stabbing my skin.  My mouth wobbled from the pain, but I didn’t dare cry out, or else they would do something more serious.  But no one would care if they did something serious.  There was no such thing as ‘law’ in Kowloon Walled City.  People could do anything they wanted to do.  Lai Ling kicked me once more in the shin, which was bleeding by now.  But I didn’t want to lose - not even when the fight didn’t even start yet.

 

I held back tears, the salty water stinging my eyes. The gang threw me into a tiny wagon that Dai Lo retrieved from somewhere in the store.  I didn’t understand what they were going to do, nor whythey are doing it. I didn’t dare move. My body felt weak and broken, and when I tried to lift my arm up, it stayed put, unable to move. The gang wheeled the wagon through winding corridors. It seemed forever as the corridors twisted and turned endlessly, until they came to a big, concrete door with a giant golden doorknob. They halted by the door, as Lai Ling pulled a matching golden key from her dress pocket. I bit my lip as she placed the key inside the keyhole. CLACK! The heavy door swung open as several rats scurried outside into the corridor. I yelped, as one of the rats nibbled on my fingers. The gang erupted into laughter, pointing and nudging each other. “Look at that useless kid! He’s scared of rats! Hey, where’d you come from? A palace?” Dai Lo laughed, while scratching his acne-filled face. When they finished laughing and minding their own business, they shook me off the wagon and threw me into the rat room. I screeched. This was beginning to delve into my biggest nightmare.

A few rats ran and nibbled at my fingers and legs. I screamed and yelped. There were goosebumps on my skin, and the hair rose on the nape of my neck. I was glad when the gang slammed the antediluvian door shut...except I was trapped, and had no escape. There weren’t any windows either. Just a plain room with rats scurrying around helplessly. “Use your thinking skills.” I remember Grandma saying. I suddenly thought about how worried she would be right now. All alone at home and wondering where her only grandson would be right now. I sat down slowly at a corner behind a pile of filled sacks, thinking it was the end. The rats sniffed around my knapsack. They must have smelled the two slices of bread I put in a paper bag. They sniffed again. I wanted to push them away with my hands, but I was too scared. I didn’t want to touch them. I had no choice but to move away from them. As I stood up cautiously, a sack slipped down onto my foot. It must have been something hard like ripe potatoes, because it hurt a lot. I kicked the sack off my foot, which then made all the other sacks fall down and pile on top of the other. Then I noticed it. A large hole hidden behind the sacks! The hole was dark and mouldy, but good enough for me to crawl through. My mind bursted with excitement and hope. My body felt energetic and no longer aching. Well, at least everything is worth a try. I delved in my knapsack to find my torch. It wasn’t long before I lied down on my stomach and crawled into the small tunnel.

 

Chapter 5

I had to duck my head to get past the first part of the tunnel. But I then realized I was in a sewer, as water dripping slowly down a pipe could be heard. I traversed along the never ending fetid smelling tunnel. Whenever I turned around a corner, a next one could be seen. I gripped my torch tightly, afraid that I might drop it and lose it. The torch shone bright like the North Star.

DRIP...DROP...DRIP...DROP…

 

I would jump whenever water dripped on my shoulder. My rubber boots would squeak, which would create echoes along the dim tunnel. I soon became bored and my legs ached again. I stopped to have a rest; it felt like I had just ran a full marathon non-stop in five minutes. As I stopped, I noticed there was something different about the sewer - there was light! At the drop of a hat, I raced towards where the light was coming from. I had no time to waste!

There it was! Where the light was coming from! I climbed up a ladder which led to a manhole. I sprinted up the ladder and...there was a stream of light. I looked around. I was back on land. In Kowloon Walled City. But I soon realized I didn’t open the manhole - someone else did. And there, standing next to me, was a tall, young lad. He looked about my age. I stared up at the boy, half of my body still standing on the ladder.

“John?” I squawked, surprised that he was here.

“It’s me, Dennis! I heard noises underneath and...I thought I could give a helping hand. Is that fine?” He asked. Then he bent down and cupped his hand around his mouth. “I actually told Ma that I was going to the corner store to buy some crisps, but I sneaked out and went to find you instead, since I heard what happened this morning. No one knows about this!” I giggled a bit. He held out his hand and I laid mine on to top of his. He gripped my hand and pulled me out of the sewer. People who passed by stopped to take a look, pointing and shrugging. “Whew!” I let out a sigh of relief as I brushed off some dust from my shirt. “You have some here…” John uttered, pointing to his face. I brushed it off casually and wiped my dirty hand on my shirt. It was starting to get worn out and dirty by now, but I didn’t mind a single bit.

“So, what happened over there? Why in the marbles were you down there in that sewer?” John asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, it’s a long story, and I have to get going to do something.” I said in a hurry. I still had to find out who had the rotten idea of stuffing dead rats into the fish balls. But John looked at me as if I was excluding him on purpose. “You can come along too, if you want.” I added. Then I began to tell him the whole story, from how Mr. Lee asked me to buy fish balls for him to how I crawled into that disgusting sewer.

“I’m coming too, Detective Dennis!” John exclaimed, imitating a salute.

 

“Keep quiet, John! They might still be here!” I hissed through gritted teeth. John nodded. We were going back to the fish ball store to investigate more. This almost seemed like a crime story. We tiptoed across the empty room, hopping over fallen baskets or dropped fish balls. I held my breath all the way until we got to the door. Then we paused. We exchanged worried looks, not knowing what to do. Should we knock? Call out? Or just barge in? It took me a moment to think, between nods and hand gestures and amazing telepathy. It was one thirty six when I had the courage to knock on the door.

No one was there. No footsteps. No people. No nothing.

I tried again, knocking even harder. John looked at me and cringed. My knuckles turned white after knocking several times. Again, there was not a single soul to be heard. The door was slightly ajar. I crept up to the door, my heart thumping wildly. Nothing could be heard in the vast, empty store. The triads must have found out I was spying on them, and somehow abandoned their hiding place. John followed, his hands and legs shaking wildly. I leaned towards the door, peering through the gap. There was a bed with no mattress, and an open window. Next to it was foldable plastic table with a stack of paper on top. But there was no trace of the triads. Just then, a great blast of wind blew across the room from the open window and the stack of paper flew everywhere. A piece of paper flew out of the window, but I flew the door open and I rushed to save the other pieces. John climbed onto the foldable table and slammed the window shut. Then everything stayed still. Completely still. I looked down at the piece of paper I had saved from being blown away. I gasped as I skimmed through it, my eyes wide open with disbelief. The words were lined in neat rows and was written in perfect English. It must had been typewritten. The letter read:

 

I, Mr. Lee Siu Kwong, owner of ‘Lee’s Kowloon Fish balls', pledges to pay Ms. Chan Lai Ling with a reward of $5000 HKD after she has done the following:

  1. Capture Mr. Lau from 4/F 29 Lo Yan Street

  2. Hunt for five hundred rats

 

Signed:Lee SK , L.L Chan


 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I recognized Mr. Lee’s name in the letter, and my father’s name. I was baffled and furious at the same time. How could Mr. Lee do such a thing? What happened to my father? Where did the triads go? My mind whirled in a mess, like a swarm of bees attacking a human. John bit his lip and peered at me worriedly.

“Let’s go,” I growled, folding the piece of paper and putting it inside my pocket. “I have an idea.”

 

Chapter 6

“Hey, hey, where are we going?” John asked desperately, finally catching up with me. I ignored him and continued to walk down the alleyway. “Does your grandmother know you’re doing this?”

“No.” I replied sternly.

We didn’t talk for the rest of the journey. Only walking. I had never felt so furious and hopeless before. We continued to walk, down narrow corridors and pathways, dodging and cutting right past people. Until we stopped at the bottom of a long staircase. “Yes, that’s right. Here’s the place we need to go.” I explained. John gulped. He seemed unsure, whether to go up or not. I went over to where he was and pointed at the staircase. We both then began to walk up the staircase. It wasn’t long before we reached the sixth floor, where we stood in front of an old, rusty metal front door. There was a small piece of cardboard that was tied with a string and hung on the door. The sign read: Lee Residence - Lee Siu Kwong and Nick Lee, but there was a large ‘X’ crossed over the letters. I read the sign over and over again, just to make sure it was him. I closed my eyes as I pressed the doorbell next to the door. It was broken, with spring and wire popping out. DING-DOING! The doorbell made a strange sound, but no one was there. I tried again. DING-DO… Still no one. But faint noises could be heard. Noises of singers belting out choruses on the radio. Noises of pages flipping in a book. But no one answered the door. I stood still on the moth-eaten mat, thinking of a cunning plan to somehow break inside the house. I sighed, my face drooping down. Now what was I going to do? My plan was going on so well. Now it’s ruined because someone isn’t answering the doorbell. But John nudged me as he pulled out a paper clip from his shirt pocket.

 

I didn’t know how John could come up with such a great idea. His body was bent down, deep into thought and work. His small hands moved up and down, as the lock made clicking noises. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. John removed the paper clip from the lock, then swung the door opened. He had picked the lock, and successfully, he had opened the door - just like a spy! There was a stream of light coming from inside the flat. Leaving the door open, we stepped in quietly into the flat. Then sitting right there on a small one-person leather sofa, was Mr. Lee the fishball maker, reading the daily newspaper. “Mr. Lee?” I blurted out on purposely, walking right over to the sofa. He looked up, and stared at me, horrified.

“Wh - why are you here ?” He stammered, standing up immediately.

“We need to ask you something. Oh, and don’t even try to lie to us.” I replied fiercely, raising an eyebrow.

Mr. Lee laughed. “What?”

“Explain what this is, please.” I held out the contract, waving it in the air. Mr. Lee snatched it from my hands and started reading it. “Please explain.”

“Er...well...This isn’t related to me! This is nonsense!” Mr. Lee hollered, suddenly tearing the piece of paper in half. I frowned at him.

“Then we’re not leaving until you tell us the truth.” John and I nodded at each other. We were on this together.

Mr. Lee picked up his newspaper and sat down on the sofa again, ignoring us completely. John and I stood still, as we watched a nearby clock slowly tick by. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty five minutes. Finally, after forty five minutes had passed, I asked, “Ready yet? We’re not going to leave unless you tell us the truth. Or else...” Mr. Lee sighed. I knew it would be difficult. But it was more important to tell the truth than to deny it completely.

“Well. Okay, fine. I’ll tell you.” He groaned. John and I winked at each other.

“This whole thing is my fault. Don’t blame others, because it’s my fault. I started this whole commotion because I didn’t want your father’s business to beat mine. I mean he had a lot of customers - way more than how much I have. So I paid some triads to kidnap your father and make him join the gang.” He explained.

“But what about the rat and the fishball part?” I questioned.

“That part? Oh. At first I thought it would be a smart idea to ask the triads to use dead rats in my fish balls. Then I would blame it on your father. But I guess after all, it was a silly idea.”  Now I understood. That was the story. John and I was about to leave, when Mr. Lee stopped us and said, “Can you please forgive me? Tell your father that. I’m really sorry for what I did. Oh, and something lucky will happen to you in a while. Trust me, boy.”

I smiled. I knew what to do just then.

 

John and I bolted back home, and since John was an excellent runner, he had a head start. “Wait up, John! That’s not fair, you’re way fas - Oops! I beg your pardon, I’m sorry.” I looked up. It was Husky Man, wearing the same tuxedo and leather shoes. But I quickly looked down away from him. Then I realized something - there was something particular about him. I’ve seen him before...sometime ago...a long time ago. “Little kid?” Husky Man was trying to speak to me. I looked up at him again. Then it hit me. “Dad! It’s you! Oh goodness! You’re back!” I hugged Husky Man - my father, tightly, not wanting to let go. “Dennis? Is that you? Oh, you’ve grown so much!” My father bent down on his knees, and picked me up and swung me around like a little kid. Tears - tears of joy - spilled down my cheeks. We embraced over each other, sniffing and laughing and hugging. “Wait till’ Grandma sees you!” I exclaimed.  My father ruffled my hair, just like how he used to when I was a little toddler.  “Oh, I love you dad! I missed you so much!”

 

Chapter 7

“One, two, three, four, five…” I mumbled, counting how many jumps John had made on the Chinese elastic jump rope.  We were out on the roof, playing and chatting.

“Ninety six! That’s a record that is, John!” I cheered, giving John a high-five.  We both sat down at the edge of the roof, which faced down towards the dark, empty street, where we’d dangle our legs and hold each other tight.  It seemed just like when we were little kids, now everything was back to normal, and it felt like it too. A slight breeze blew across my face, ruffling and messing up my neatly cut bangs. The roof had big pots of plants on the side, and a cluster of TV antennas on the other. It looked like a mysterious jungle gym altogether. John nudged me gently on my shoulder.

“So,” He began. “Your pa’s back, eh? Everything is back to normal now?”

I nodded and smiled. I laid down on the hard, stone floor, my lucky pebble placed next to me. I closed my eyes, wanting to capture this moment forever. It would be perfect. Father, Grandma, John and I. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

 

Epilogue:

“That old hag, Mr. Lee! He never keeps promises! All because of that eleven year old kid, Dennis!” Tai Chek Lo, the leader of the triads, screamed, his arms waving madly in the air. “He saidhe’ll reward us, but he didn’t! He even signed that stupid contract! I never should have even believed him!”

“Yes, I know! That Dennis! Thinks he’s so smart! He even reported us to that loony Kai Fong Association! Huh!” Lai Ling snorted.

But Tai Chek Lo shot her a disapproving look immediately. “W-we’re sorry, boss.” Lai Ling and Dai Lo muttered, looking down at their feet. Tai Chek Lo frowned, and banged his large, rock-like fist on the table, sending a pen flying towards the other side of the musty room.

“You better think of something, girl. Or you’re out! Out with a capital ‘o’!” Tai Chek Lo hollered, pointing a hairy finger at Lai Ling.

“Yes, s - sir.” Lai Ling stuttered, struggling to stand up straight in her stiletto heels. Suddenly, Tai Chek Lo smirked, the corner of his mouth slowly rising. “I have an idea.”


 


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