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Part 5 of 9
Shades of Gray
Author: Brian Kay

Eddie Gray shook the tiny droplets of rain that tenaciously clung to his overcoat and stepped into the past. Chow Woo's was a nostalgically retro cabaret/bar/supper club. He checked his coat with an effusively smiling Asian woman and made his way to the bar. He was intercepted by a petite, multi-Asian woman, laden with a tray of very expensive looking cigarettes.

"Edward, It is so very nice to see you. It has been some time since your last visit." Eddie Gray took in the lovely features of the demure woman before him and smiled.

"Good evening, Myla. I'm so very happy to see you again. I apologize for not coming more often. I've been occupied with too much work. Not enough play. I hope to rectify that tonight." He smiled at her and gently touched her shoulder. She trembled ever so slightly at his touch, a smile briefly played on her red lips. Eddie Gray felt more alive tonight than he had in a long time. Myla was the only women he had been with since his divorce from his wife. She perhaps wanted more than just a casual, but intimate relationship, but for him, taking was easier than giving, especially at this point in his life.

"Perhaps we would be able to spend some time together this evening, when I am finished with my work, yes?" She lowered her head slightly and peeked at him with a sheepish, mischievous expression on her flawless face.

Eddie Gray sighed. "Yes Ma'am. It would be my absolute pleasure." He fished his hand into his pocket, extracted a roll of bills and over-paid for a pack of Chinese cigarettes.

Myla smiled again and bowed slightly. "You are very kind and generous, my good sir. I look forward to our "meeting" later. Now, I must be occupied with my work." She quickly touched his arm and was off. Her perfume lingered in the air. He inhaled deeply, her scent a tantalizing hint of the exotic pleasures that awaited him.

He found an empty seat at the bar. He glanced at his watch. It was still fairly early. The place would not begin to get crowded until much later. He opened the pack of cigarettes and promptly lit one. He filled his lungs with the tobacco and exhaled forcefully. His brow was knotted in concentration. His mind went over the events of the past few weeks. He was confident that things were in order when the time came to go into action. He had made most of the necessary arrangements and the thought of reuniting with his daughter was what kept him functioning. He hoped that all of this planning was not in vain. He had to believe that what was happening was legitimate.

If he didn't, all would be lost.

"Questions?" A soft voice spoke. Its Cantonese accent was mingled with faint, clipped British inflections.

"Don't have answers," was Eddie Gray's reply.

The man behind the bar grinned broadly. He was clad in an immaculate white tuxedo jacket and black bow tie. His sparse, black hair was meticulously combed in place. His eyes were like vibrant chips of black ice. Chow Woo laughed and re-buttoned his jacket. "You look as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, Edward. Are you troubled?" His concern was genuine.

"Perhaps, but I will shrug off my immense burden and leave it here. With you." Eddie smiled and took another drag of his cigarette. Chow Woo laughed heartily and made his way to the shelf of bottles behind him.

"Quatloo." Eddie said blowing smoke through his nostrils.

"Please, Edward. You do a disservice not only to me but to yourself by consuming that....that....."

"Rotgut?"

"What a marvelously antiquated phrase, Edward. You will have some of my "special brand." You may drink that "rotgut" on your own time."

Chow Woo proceeded to bring over two leaded crystal glasses and poured amber liquid from an ornately cut glass bottle. Eddie brought the glass to his lips and promptly consumed the contents of the glass in one swallow. He placed the glass back on the bar and said, "Nice, but lacks the fire of Quatloo."

Chow Woo looked at him disapprovingly, like a parent about to scold his child.

"Edward, it is meant to be sipped and enjoyed, not gulped." He shook his head again, and poured another glass.

There was some animated conversation at the other end of the bar. Chow excused himself with an air of pomp and ceremony and quickly made his way to the end of the bar, chattering away in his sing-song Cantonese. Eddie Gray downed the glass again and helped himself to more of his friend's "special brand." He poured the amber liquid, filling the glass halfway. He lit another cigarette and stared at the finely cut glass bottle. He had done some work for Chow Woo, usually in the form of personal security. He had made contacts with other persons like Chow Woo and worked for them as well. The money was good and he was in demand. He knew that they were of unsavory reputation, especially to those in the law enforcement community, but he didn't give a damn.

As far as he was concerned, he wasn't a cop anymore.

He was a killer. And that suited him just fine.

He finished a fourth glass of liquor and was about to pour another when a hand appeared on his shoulder.

"Hello, Starke."

"Gray."

You seem pretty confident that it was me. You didn't even turn around.

"I could smell you." The words came out in a low hiss.

"Now you're getting nasty, Gray. I didn't come here to pick a fight, but if you want one, I'll oblige you." Her grip tightened on his shoulder.

Eddie took a long drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke out in Starke's direction. She didn't flinch and her grip was now like iron.

"Inspector Young wants you. Now." She remained motionless, her gaze completely focused on him. He capitulated. The tense rigidity leaving his body along with the last plume of smoke from his lungs. It was pointless to delay the inevitable.

Besides, He didn't want to get his ass kicked by a woman in front of the patrons of Chow Woo's. He would lose face, and probably some teeth as well. He threw a roll of bills on the bar and called to Chow Woo. "Thanks for the good stuff, my friend. I must be going. The weight of the world is back on my shoulders." Please tell Myla that I will make arrangements to see her another time, with my sincere apologies. Chow Woo looked pained and bowed slightly. "Yes, Edward I will do that. Perhaps you can come back and we can talk at length about some business and things of a pleasant nature."

Eddie Gray strode to the coat check room and quickly retrieved his overcoat and stormed out of Chow Woo's, Starke trailing behind him. She caught up with him on the street, the rain now a fine mist swirling about them.

"Gray, why do you associate with Woo? He is not exactly an outstanding member of the community. You're going to get jammed up by associating with him and the other questionable characters that you are working for. What's the point?"

Eddie Gray lit another cigarette and looked at Starke square in the eyes. His face inches from hers.

"For somebody who doesn't seem to give a damn about anybody or anything, you sure as hell ask a lot of questions."

She stood her ground. Silent for a moment and then replied, "Maybe I'm just naturally inquisitive."

Eddie shook his head and threw the cigarette to the ground. "Don't start developing a sense of humor now Starke, it doesn't suit you."

Eddie sighed and continued. "We've been working in tandem for almost a year now and I've told you practically my whole life story. Such as it is. And you tell me squat. How about a little quid pro quo, Hannah? Hmmm?"

She studied Gray silently. For an instant, she reminded him of his daughter, Claire. She had the same intense, studious look on her face.

"Whatever you want to know about me. It's in my file at the division mainframe."

Eddie Gray spat on the ground, his anger rising as they walked towards the spinner. "You want to play the role of delivery lackey for Inspector Young, then do it."

"Deliver me."

He didn't speak to her the entire length of the ride to division headquarters. Starke set the spinner down on the lighted launch/arrive pad and remained still as the purge generators eventually whined into silence. Eddie Gray jerked a cigarette out of the crumpled pack and fired it up, glancing sideways at Starke's stone like posture. The minutes slowly ticked by. He blew the cigarette smoke out, sighing. His head began to pound. His throat was sore and his lips were dry.

This was not a good sign. He had enough of bad signs to last him a lifetime.

"You coming or what?" He said, breaking the silence.

Hannah Starke continued to stare straight ahead, rock solid still as she spoke.

"Negative. I'm done playing fetch. Tell Young to find another messenger whore. I'm through with that role."

Gray looked at her for a moment, feeling regret wash over him for giving her a hard time.

"OK. Message acknowledged. I'll inform his royal highness." Gray quickly exited the spinner, rubbing his forehead, gearing up for the ration of shit he was going to get from Inspector Young.

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