The place looked empty. Were the kids here? In one of their hotel rooms?
"Shit." I stifled a sigh and scanned the spacious lobby, ignoring the nervousness that was slowly turning into anxiety by the minute.
It's an expensive hotel, quite exclusive and too far from the house. Why would Shin bring the kids here?
She wasn't one to splurge on anything for herself or the kids. She didn't even like buying new clothes for her wardrobe.
I approached the front desk, with not a clue as to why she took the kids here or why she had to meet up with Kenji in this area.
Whoever the owner of this hotel was, pretty sure they knew my deadbeat cousin one way or another.
Well, it could even be Tan himself, that drug-dealing psycho. If he turned up today, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. Which was why I brought a loaded gun today just in case.
These days, drug lords often ran legitimate businesses on the side, for multiple reasons. It wouldn't be a shock if Tan and his high-ranking "public servant" cousin tried out being hoteliers now, too. Well, with all that dirty money they'd been raking in...
"Any reply?" I turned to glance at Rex, my bodyguard and the head of my security detail. The rest waited in the vehicle parked outside the lobby.
As much as I wanted to get the kids out of here as fast as we could, we first should make sure they were actually here, but without drawing too much attention. The last thing we wanted: Kenji or his drug-dealing friends thinking we came here for the kids with violence in mind.
"Restaurant. Third floor," replied Rex, who was trying his best to conceal his weapon that stayed tucked underneath his dark jacket. He was bald and tall, like Kenji, but Rex had much more common sense and no drug addiction problems.
Much easier to keep around. "Any signs of the guy?" I muttered as we stepped closer to the receptionists.
"Negative." Rex cleared his throat and kept his attention on his phone screen.
"Good afternoon, Sir," the brown-haired receptionist greeted.
"Afternoon." I feigned a smile for the hotel staff. "Where's your restaurant?"
"Which hotel? Omw."
I replied to Daniel's text before glancing around the hotel's restaurant.
Not that many guests or customers. Barely half of the tables looked busy. In the corner, a long table was occupied by two kids and two adults.
Definitely Kenji and Shin. Miyuki and Akira looked busy with their ice cream, but their parents didn't look preoccupied by their late lunch. In fact the former husband and wife seemed pretty serious with whatever it was they're discussing in front of their kids. Or maybe they're trying to keep it to themselves.
I kept my eyes on them, with Rex sitting close to me as we watched the scene five tables away.
Wearing braided pigtails, Miyuki had her back to us and sat next to her older brother, Akira. In front of them, Shin reclined beside Kenji with a scowl compressing her lips and scrunching up her brows.
The bodyguard stood a few steps behind them, just staring at us, as if to say he did his job to the best of his ability.
Well, if the family only came here to have a quick, fun lunch, then fine. But we all knew that wasn't the case. My gut told me this was enemy territory, and we came a little unprepared.
"What now, boss?" Rex mumbled beside me. He sat with one elbow on the table while pretending to enjoy his coffee.
I knew his other hand under the table was ready to pull out his smallest handgun, but I went along with his pretense. I even ordered some blueberry cheesecake. Collien might be in the mood for cake tonight.
Then Kenji leaned in and seemed to be whispering to Shin's ear. She smiled briefly. Kenji chuckled and held her hand.
I squinted at the scene.
What's happening? Just months ago, Ayashi was dying to talk to her lawyers about filing for annulment, and now this? What did Kenji say? Was he feeding her lies and manipulating her again?
"Wait. Make sure no one else's watching them," I muttered to Rex as we stayed in our seats, still watching the couple and the kids.
Before the smile on Shin's pale face faded, some guy in a button-down shirt approached their table with a lopsided grin. A cellphone was in his hand.
"Shit." I got up and quit pretending to be a stranger in the background. I stared at the familiar guy, just to be sure. "It's him."
The ex-convict and well-known drug kingpin Kenji had for a boss invited me to take a seat the second he saw me.
"Mr. Jeihral Han. What a surprise..." Armond Tan faked a smile as I approached the table while Shin and the kids stared at me. The asshole even wore office clothes today.
The irony. As if he ever spent a day in a real office doing real work... As far as I knew, he and his family only liked to make easy money. Drugs, gambling, dirty politics, et cetera... Their family of crooks was well-versed in those.
I ignored the greeting and regarded Kenji and Shin. "Take them downstairs," I instructed.
We had to get the children out of here.
Kenji only frowned.
I stared at Shin. "Bring the kids downstairs now."
"Chill out, Mr. Chairman. We were just having lunch," Armond drawled with a smirk. The guy watched Akira when the kid got up from his seat to grab his little sister's hand, as if sensing impending danger.
"Aki, go with your mom. Take your sister downstairs."
"And you, Tito?"
"Be there in five." I stared at my nephew, who now looked confused and slightly scared. "Stay in the car."
"Okay," Akira replied with his head down.
"I'll be the one to decide when they'll leave." Kenji budged in his seat.
"Shut it, Ken." I turned to him while trying my hardest not to scowl or attract unwanted attention from the strangers around us. "Take the kids downstairs."
A tension-filled silence stretched when he just kept glaring.
"Did I stutter?" I glared back at him.
Eventually the idiot yielded to my command. Kenji turned to his ex-wife and led the kids away from the table.
"Thanks," Shin mouthed to me.
"D's in the lobby." I nodded to the elevators.
They left with the bodyguard while Rex stayed beside me. Then I faced the grinning drug lord still sitting at the other side of the dining table.
Who knew what the scumbag hid up in his sleeve... Better safe than sorry.
"Tito J, we gonna check out the big swimming poow, and Mommy and Daddy!" Miyuki glanced at me as they strolled out of the restaurant with her brother.
"Good. Don't run off," I replied to the oblivious kid.
Her tense-looking parents kept looking at me and Tan before they reached the elevator.
I still didn't trust Kenji to do the right thing, but I almost breathed a sigh of relief when they finally stepped into the elevator. I didn't want to stay in unfamiliar territory, either. And being stuck in here with the kids wasn't any better. I just wanted to get this over with. Once and for all, I'd face this bully and certified thief, who could be heavily armed compared to the meager Glock 17 that was painfully strapped to my ankle.
"Didn't think you'd show up." Armond casually leaned back in his seat. He eyed me, the guy's pleasant expression as fraudulent as his assets and bank accounts. "Glass of beer? Fancy some wine?"
"Cut the shit. What do you want?" I maintained my poker face and stood close to the table.
For a while, the crook only smirked at my response.
If only the restaurant didn't have customers today, I would've pulled my gun out to cock it in the guy's face. But civilians were still around. For now, I'd keep my cool.
Why this nutjob orchestrated this meetup, I didn't really care...but maybe he thought today had to happen.
"How's life?" Armond stretched his arms and forced another smile.
I squinted at the asshole. The question sounded like years-old disdain again. My fist clenched, just itching to punch the smugness off his ugly face. "How's prison?"
"Educational." Armond grinned, seeming pleased by the scornful question. The guy chuckled after glancing around us. "Have a seat," he mumbled with a nod.
Unwilling but curious enough, I hastily pulled a chair. Then I was eye-to-eye with the guy I'd been dreaming of strangling with my bare hands. For years now. "Make it quick. I got somewhere to be."
"Fine," Armond sighed as he fixed his collar. Then we played the stare-down game again. He got quiet for a while.
"I need to transfer some accounts to your bank."
"Transfer?" Upon realizing what it meant, I almost laughed at the proposition. "You're funny."
"Let's make it an extra sweet exchange." The guy smirked.
Was he seriously trying to cut a deal? Just hilarious. "Do I look like I'd want any more problems with the law?"
"Your fees will be incremental and generous. In return, I'm gonna need some cooperation and resources from your end."
I scoffed. "You thought I'd even consider making deals with your kind?" I frowned. "Go find another accomplice."
"Half a million dollars, prime properties, and privileged information," Armond muttered before I could get up and leave. The criminal actually wanted to hammer out a deal today.
"No thanks." I stayed seated, but I wanted to laugh out loud now. How desperate was this greedy idiot?
"Coward." Armond smirked again and glanced to my bodyguard.
"I got better things to do. Try anything fishy, and I might resort to more uncivilized measures this time." I glanced to where Shin and the kids had disappeared to. "Quit bothering my cousin and his family. Then I'll let you enjoy this freedom you have for now."
"You see me holding a gun to their heads, Mr. Chairman?" The asshole shrugged. "Maybe she badly wanted to see Ken. Y'know, maybe she's had a change of heart."
"Did I ask for your opinion?"
"Just stating the obvious."
I faked a grin. "Leave them alone. I don't like repeating myself."
Well, the kids seemed to be enjoying their dad's company, so I let Kenji go with them. Besides, Daniel was already in the lobby according to his latest text. The bodyguards knew what to do in case Kenji tried something stupid. Wouldn't be the first time.
"Alright," Armond conceded with a sigh. "But I need this deal to happen. Soon."
"If only I could give two shits about your financial problems and whatnot." I tsk-ed. "Leave them alone or I'll have legal throw you back in prison with another bunch of charges."
"Fine," Armond Tan said through gritted teeth. He leaned in dangerously close that I could smell his foul cigarette breath. "A million dollars."
"Good luck with that." Shaking my head, I got up and glanced around. Clear. It seemed no one overheard the conversation except Rex. "And get your filthy money away from me."