Ryu rubbed the side of his chin absentmindedly and leaning back from the table. Acceptable risk was one thing. Vegetation was something completely different. He twisted this squat teacup around a few times. He opened his mouth “I-”
He’d barely let himself get out one word when he caught sight of the tall thin waiter stepping toward their table. The man was tall, his thin frame hardly filling his black slacks and white shirt. His hands folded as he stood at the open end of their table. “Are we ready to order?” He smiled.
The four of them pulled the menus from the table again. They’d looked them over during the conversation, but not really looked. But ordering Chinese was just something one did. “The Happy Family,” Aaron said with a smile, sliding his menu over and pausing for the next order. “The General Tso’s” He added his menu on top of Aaron’s. “Mild please.” Aaron let out an audible chuckle. Ryu returned with a sarcastic scowl.
The waiter nodded, turning his attention to the other side of the table. Vivian was still perusing the menu rather quickly. Eddy handed over the menu, “Moo Goo Gai Pan, large please.” He stretched his arm around the woman beside him. Vivian looked up from her menu. “Lemon Chicken,” she said replied, smiling to the waiter. The waiter nodded once more, picking up the last of the menu’s stepping away from the table.
“What? You don’t like spicy food, Roo?” Aaron grinned, filling the teacups around the table.
“I love spicy food, thanks.” Ryu took a sip from his little cup. “But I also like to breathe. My photocopied brain’s still adjusting to your full color taste-buds.”
A collective chuckle circled the table, then settled once again into somewhat uneasy silence. This was broken by the appearance of the waiter yet again, setting down a plate of crispy noodles and the accompanying condiments of sweet and sour sauce and spicy horseradish mustard. Ryu looked crestfallen once more.
“Something wrong?” Vivian asked.
“I love me some spicy mustard, but that cup started making my eyes water as soon as the waiter came out of the kitchen.” Aaron laughed and received a kick to the shin for his efforts, “How do you deal with this?”
“Years of adjustment, grasshoppa,” Aaron replied, dipping a noodle in the yellow sauce and popping it in his mouth.
Eddy took a sip of tea, “So why the public meeting?”
“Trust.” Aaron smiled. He sipped his tea, letting the word sink in with the other three. “I felt I had an unfair advantage on you – both of you – so I figured I’d level the playing field even though I really wasn’t expecting this many guests.” He paused for another crispy noodle and swallow of tea, “What happened with Ryu and me last night sort of cemented a level of trust between the two of us.”
“More like crazy glued.” Ryu cut in.
“And to give you this –” Aaron pulled a small data stick from a pocket that had suddenly formed at his chest. “The comm-link I gave you will be able to decrypt it, and I have duplicates… just in case.”
Eddy’s lips pursed for a moment, as he contemplated the plastic and metal stick that Aaron held between his fingers. He took it and pocketed it. “Good news?”
Aaron shrugged a little. “50/50. Nothing you’ll like. Alfonse has new friends in South America.” He shook his head. “Nothing I could call solid. Vague names, at least to me.”
Eddy nodded, not looking all to happy. “And Andy?” Aaron only shook his head. Eddy sighed, his hand sliding up beneath Vivian’s, their fingers fitting between one another. He looked at her, tucking a lock of her hair back behind her ear. She smiled. “Thanks. I’ll take a listen.”
“That’s not all.” He looked at Ryu briefly, whose jaw was uncharacteristically square. Ryu nodded toward the open room. The waiter carried over a wide oval tray. He set it down beside them, softly naming the dishes as he set them on the table.
The group sat quietly as the beautiful dishes were laid before them. Ryu slipped out a pair of chopsticks, turning to their server and asking for more tea in passable Mandarin. Eddy gave him a look, but he missed it. The waiter nodded and left the table.
“There’s more?” It was more of a statement than a question. It was the perfect time for out of the frying pan and into the fire. She pulled her plate closer and waited for a reply.
“Last night, when Aaron and I ran back into each other, we half stumbled on another meeting down on the docks.” He spooned some of the General Tso’s onto his plate before sliding it back to the center of the table. “Apparently with Mr. Begnini’s loose footing, the Yakuza are making a play for some of his ground.”
Eddy grunted, stabbing at his plate. “Alfonse is not going to like that.” He put the food in his mouth.
Vivian stroked his thigh sympathetically. “He’s not the only one. Sounds like it’s going to start hitting the fan, and soon.”
“I’ve dealt with these people before.” Ryu’s usual pleasant expression still hadn’t returned. “Jotaro Ikoma is dangerous. This whole thing is going to get bloody, and it’s going to spill onto the streets.”
“Which brings me back to the trust issue,” Aaron said as he spooned several shrimp, steaming beef, and veggies from his platter. “We are all used to working solo, for the most part, and have been fairly successful at it.”
Vivian speared a shrimp from Aaron’s chopsticks, “If you’re suggesting a team-up, I have to warn you that I don’t play well with others.” She glanced at Eddy with a wry smile, “Well, most others that is.”
“Understood,” Aaron began, a broiled scallop replacing his pilfered prawn, “But your connection to the criminal element can provide us access to information that we might not be able to get. At least not as easily.”