The rest of the sign was in Chinese characters and Greek alphabet, almost as bad. Leeza frowned across the street at barred windows and scrubbed marble.
“You’re sure this is it?” She held the coin above the reach of the pigtailed little Asian girl in rolled-up denims.
“Sure. Okay, you bet. Zhao Dieng.” She pointed indignantly at the sign across the street, holding up her palm.
Leeza shrugged and dropped the coin. It winked in the sun and disappeared into the denims, the denims disappearing down the cobbled street. She eyed the storefront again. She’d expected a dive. It was in Chinatown, all right, but on the fringes close to the business district. She felt ridiculous in the shapeless black peasant skirt and scarf.
She sighed and turned to Chuck. “You stay over here. You can watch the door. I promise I won’t climb out the back window.”
He grumbled and took up a casual pose with a Greek news flyer. Inconspicuous—twice the size of anyone else on the street. Leeza walked across, shaking her head.
Inside, thick patterned rugs and ceiling fans and a lot of gleaming dark wood furniture, glass cases toward the back. They were on her like flies, deadly polite all the while edging her toward the door. When she started yelling, and showed them the ring, they whisked her into a back room. A teenaged boy appeared and bobbed his head. “If please, this way.”
He took her up a spiral staircase off a dim hall, along a pale green-papered passage to a shiny wood door she was willing to bet wasn’t veneer. He tapped softly, opened the door and bowed into the opening, gestured Leeza inside.
The old guy sat very straight in a black-lacquered chair, looking like a well-groomed, alert grasshopper in a silk jacket a size too big. His eyes were shiny black marbles behind antique plastic-framed glasses.
She strode over and stuck out her hand. “Mr. Dieng, I’m Leeza Conreid, a friend of Ariadne Demodakis.”
The old man raised his face to study her. Just as she was about to drop her hand, he reached out. But he didn’t shake it. He grasped her wrist in fingers that felt like dry twigs, looked at her ring, looked at the red bumps on her fingers, then turned her hand palm up. He held her wrist between his fingertips for a while, like he was taking her pulse. She thought maybe it would be rude to pull her hand back. She stood admiring the gem-studded ivory sheath over his three-inch pinky nail.
Finally, with a polite little noise, he released her hand and said something in whispery Chinese.
The boy bowed and translated. “He sees why you have come.”
“Oh.” She blinked. “Well then tell him we only want to find her and help her. She’s sick, in trouble. I just want to take her home.”
The boy translated, the old man nodding, shiny eyes still fixed on Leeza. She cleared her throat, gaze flickering around uncomfortably, hoping for a chair. None materialized.
He waited for her to drag her gaze back to his unnerving stare. Then he went on, pausing to let the boy fill her in. “Sickness, yes. Lack of balance. The chi is disordered. It is like the earth—we must respect the lines of the dragon, must not impede their flow. Now we feel the dragon’s claws. He is lashing in anger, pain. You must breathe deeply, open the channels.”
“No, no! Ariadne. Can you help me find Ariadne? Have you heard from her?”
But the old man was turning carefully in the chair even as the boy haltingly translated her outburst, slowly opening an enamelled box on the little table beside him. He pulled out a green stone pendant on silk cords and raised it towards her.
She shook her head, confused.
He swung it before her. The cords shimmered—red, black, and white, braided. “For the new one. Good for open ways. Chi flows.”
Leeza shook her head again and shot a look at the boy, wondering if he was translating right. But the old man was insistent, thrusting the pendant into her hands. She took it, looking down.
She caught a quick breath. It was exquisite—translucent jade circlet carved with an arching dragon, all curly claws and tail and flaring nostrils and fringy spikes, glaring ferociously as it sprawled around the circle. It seemed to stir in her hands, spitting fire.
A tug on her arm, the boy bobbing his head apologetically. “You must go now. He’s tired.”
“Wait.” She held the pendant back toward the old man. “You haven’t answered about Ariadne.”
He only sat composed in his chair, gaze fixed through her. The boy bowed to him and hustled Leeza out, pushing the pendant back at her until she slipped the cords around her neck for fear of dropping it. Before she could think, she was out on the street, door shutting behind her. Chuck glowered across the street over his newspaper.
The stone dragon warmed between her breasts.
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