1 week Before Vladivostok
BMW and Xin sat down to dinner at St. George’s in Hong Kong. An open bottle of red wine sat in the middle of the table keeping company with the low candlelight and centerpiece. Xin had already finished a glass and was sipping her water when BMW arrived.
As BMW sat and pulled in her chair, the mentor and her student exchanged pleasantries.
“I’m sorry work has been thin lately,” Xin started, but BMW politely shushed her.
“Work comes and goes, and I have enough. That isn’t why I’m here, unfortunately.”
“I fear that I may have involved myself and the rest of my team in something more than we can handle.”
Xin looked across the table. All friendliness and camaraderie melted away; she became strictly business. Xin understood the shifting sands of the shadows, and she knew how quickly a small problem could become a large one. That Xiùlán could also recognize when a situation had potential to go sideways was a good sign. If she made it through the coming months, she would be stronger for it. but Xin said none of this. She only nodded.
“Some months ago we came to work for the fixer known only as Cowl. Private investigations done on our part into his true nature and motives turned up only myths, tall tales, and half-truths. In my personal dealings with him, he has come across as shrewd, powerful, and ruthless. He is the only person I have ever met that I believe could face a dragon, if he is not one himself.”
A waiter poured both of the women a glass of wine from the open bottle on their table. Neither drank.
“I worry that we are on the wrong side of this scheme. Without mentioning details, I can only say that the sum of our work with Cowl has left me with a very bad feeling, one that I cannot seem to remove from my mind. I have had nightmares. I sleep less and worry more than ever before. The pay is great, but I had never considered the costs until now.”
The two sat in silence for a moment. The waiter returned with dinner, a finer meal than many in the city below would eat in their lifetimes. The two women only picked at their food, though.
“I fear that my soul may be ruined if I continue to go down this road. I might lose all face, and everyone that I know may be killed to satisfy my debts. I might…”
Xin reached across the table and put her hand on Xiùlán’s. “Eat.”
They finished the Lucullan meal in silence.
“Rest assured that should things go wrong, I have arrangements at the ready to get you and your entire team out of the country. You will have to leave everything behind should that happen, so be at the ready. Leave no trace, lest you be traced, friend. Rest assured.”
Xiùlán was visibly relieved. She drank from the wine glass. “Thank you.” She bowed her head.
The two women embraced before parting. Xin hoped it would not be the last time she saw her friend.