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Chapter Three

The casino was plush. The Big Texmex was brand new and, beyond upscale, it was top scale, with an Old American West theme. Tom and Mary walked in looking right at home.

For a few minutes they wandered the floor, looking, but not gawking, at the buzz stuff the Texmex had. They got their picture walking over gold bars mined from the Comstock Lode, standing in front of genuine Da Vinci paintings, and shaking hands with a Chuck Norris sim that was so faithful it was hard to tell from a clone.

They spotted Chou at one of the semi-private gambling tables in the back. He waved them over.

"Care to play a bit. We're doing Old West here, Texas Hold 'um."

"This isn't what you usually play?" asked Tom.

"No, we usually play baccarat but we're playing theme day today."

"If you are, how about something truly authentic?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"Five card draw. That's what was really played in the Old West. Texas Hold 'um. dates from the 1970's, a guy named Amarillo Slim popularized it, it was better suited for casino play."

Chou thought for just a moment, then said, "All for going authentic?" and there were nods of agreement around the table. Tom explained the rules.

Chou announced, "Since this is not on the authorized game list, we'll move to a private room." They moved to the new room one floor up from the casino floor and got into it.

As they adjourned Chou's right hand man whispered in his ear in Cantonese. Tom caught it, "There's a gaming commissioner here now."

"Keep him happy here on the main floor." Chou replied as if this was the obvious answer to this problem.

Mary played arm candy for a while, but as the concentration around the table deepened, she excused herself to wander and fully indulge in the wonders of this exclusive mash-up of ultra-rich and ultra-ostentatious humanity.

She wandered back by the Chuck Norris sim... only this time it was the real Chuck Norris! "He covers for me when I take a break." He told her. She spotted a dozen faces she recognized, some from intelligence reports and some Fortune and Forbes articles. She struck up conversations with a couple that were lower profile. They didn't seem to mind.

On the stage floor clones of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were singing, and they were good! Autry sang mostly westerns as Rogers did, but occasionally he'd slip in some zingers he wrote for other genres like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Those clones were illegal in the US, and even in China, because of IP disputes -- since Crocker vs Monsanto ten years ago genes were categorized as part of the IP universe.

But this was Macau, and "What gets cloned in Macau, stays in Macau." went the saying. Curiously, where the cloning actually happened was an unsolved mystery, one of interest to many US, Chinese and commercial intelligence groups.

She was making the most of her moment, but she dropped it all when she got a signal from Tom -- time to get back on mission. She headed back to the room, navigating a bunch of obvious security people on the way -- so much, and so obvious that it made her feel like she was in a spy movie and her antenna were up.

In the room she found a new guest playing, and tension was high. It was late stage in this round of gaming -- most around the table were despairing and ready to give up. Three were still at peak attention: Tom, Chou and the newcomer. Mary's quiet entry did not break the tension.

The chips in the center were piled high, and next to the table was a woman costumed as Slave Leia with her hands tied behind her back and a security type holding her there. She looked like she was part of the stakes and someone was about to win himself a slave girl! She was Swedish looking with a Leia style hairdo and delightful pouty lips that said, "I'm eighteen years old... and one day." and when she showed mock dismay at her plight, her body moved like a gymnast's.

"And I thought I was having a wild weekend!" thought Mary. She noticed Tom still had a good share of chips in front of him, and she thought further, "What if Tom wins? Hmm!..." But only for a moment, then she got back to thinking about the mission.

After a moment Mary recognized the newcomer. It was Chou's younger brother, Gang Bang, and from her reports she knew there was a lot of sibling rivalry.

As the betting finished its first round and draw cards were being handed out, a helicopter landed noisily on the roof. It was distracting, the game paused, and annoyance grew. But the noise was followed by a security man coming in hastily and whispering frantically in older Chou's ear. Mary had to suppress a giggle. Whatever he got told, his eyes bugged out like he was a movie extra in a Godzilla movie watching Godzilla come rising out of Tokyo Bay.

"Momma!" he said in Cantonese to his brother, who then joined him in the Godzilla Is Coming look. The game ended right there. The Chou's motioned for their respective security people to collect chips, then said to each other, "One flees up, one flees down!" and went into a quick paper-sizzors-rock. Older Chou won, but before he could announce his choice, Tom came up, put arms around both to calm them, and said in a slight Austrian accent, "Gentlemen, if you want your allowances to live, follow my plan." Tom quickly whispered his plan, both looked at him surprised, then agreed. Both headed out, fast.

Mary was watching, dazed, so were the other players. This was so out of the blue! As soon as the Chous' chips were off the table Tom ordered, "Play! Deal another round!" then to Mary, quickly and totally composed, "Mary, please collect my chips." She began scooping chips into her handbag. The man holding Slavegirl untied her.

Mary was about half through and cards half dealt when a matronly Chinese voice came thundering down the hallway. Both speeded up and finished just as the elder Mrs. Chou reached the door. The untied woman decided against a dash for the door, and instead hid in a corner behind the security guy. Mrs. Chou stormed into the room, "Where are my boys!" in Cantonese. Clearly they would not be happy if she found them there, and the thunder of her tone rocked the rest of the players and guards. This was not a tone anyone wanted to hear from Mrs. Chou! She, not the boys, actually owned this place!

But Tom weathered the storm and walked up to Mrs. Chou, introducing himself. She switched to English and paid him just a little mind. "Where are my boys! They know they aren't supposed to gamble. I'm going to... to... skin their hides!" when she finally found some English words to match her fury.

Tom answered smoothly, "They are in the basement conference room. We are having a meeting down there, and when they heard you were here they suggested I come to you with some questions they couldn't answer... some business questions."

She looked at him most peculiarly now, "Business questions?"

"Yes, we've been doing some planning downstairs. Would you care to join us?"

Mary looked around and thought, "Thank goodness the people around this table have enough sense not to start giggling at this!"

Momma Chou clearly only half believed this, but that half was so happy at hearing this straw of hope that she conceded, "Let me show you the way back, Mr. Sottm," and she headed out as fast as she came in. Tom quickly motioned for Mary to get beside him and they headed down together.

The planning room was a plush meeting room which could handle about twenty people. Hu Lu and Gang Bang are sitting beside each other at a long table. They were conferring.

Momma walked in like she owned the place and sat at the head of the table. Tom and Mary followed her and sat opposite Hu Lu and Gang Bang. Momma had a sour look on her face. She didn't believe there'd been a meeting here, but she was being polite, and hoping. The boys were scared to death, and hoping.

Tom started the conversation. He watched Momma closely as he talked. He was cold reading her, searching for a hot button topic.

"Hu Lu, Gang Bang and I were discussing setting up a... long term relation... involving a business deal."

"Not something involving shipping, I hope! Their father loved that, but these boys haven't even seen the inside of his office since they were five year olds."

The boys cringed a little at this.

"No! Not at all. Something they are more familiar with. They have been involved with Texmex as it has gone up, right?"

Momma Chou nodded, Tom continued.

"Casinos are a booming business. My clients are looking to capitalize on a booming business... and do it with partners who have... expertise."

Momma Chou huffed a bit and said, "Well, my boys have more expertise in this than I'd like!" then got more forgiving, "But it is paying off. And it's something that holds their interest."

Tom said, "Exactly! My clients want to set up another casino here in Macau. This market has just begun to open up, and they want to team up with local expertise."

Hu Lu was getting the idea. He jumped in, "We were thinking of an extension on Texmex..."

Momma frowned at that. Hu Lu stopped. Tom picked up in his place.

"Yes, my clients where thinking of a completely new theme, on a new site."

Momma Chou jumped on that, "Not Chinese, I hope! There so much low-grade Chinese theme here already."

Tom, still watching her carefully, "No... we were thinking something more exotic. Say, Japanese."

Momma didn't cringe at that.

"Historic Japanese... say a samurai theme. That should appeal to Americans and Europeans as well. They know the samurai legends."

Momma's eyes were lighting up.

"We can call it Big Shogun! It can sit nearby here... I believe there's some property close at hand..." he looks at the boys, a cue for them to add to this story, "I believe Gang Bang was talking about that when you arrived."

At this point Gang Bang took over confidently. He loved real estate.

"There are three properties nearby with suitable access, utilities and easements. I'm researching what we can accomplish in the way of zoning changes."

Momma's eyes started to glaze over at this. Property was not one of her interests. She interrupted. She did not sound angry or accusing now, instead she was bored and thinking about other issues.

She said, "You four sound like you have much to discuss. I have some issues that need handling right now.

"Hu Lu, Gang Bang, let me know how this turns out."

Momma stood, Tom stood, "Good to meet you, Mr. Sottm. I hope you and my boys come up with something productive."

She ignored Mary, figured she was just arm candy, and walked out.

Mary thought to herself, "My goodness he's smooth!" then with more amazement as she realized the implications of what she had just witnessed, "...Oh my he's smooth! And good! I... I... I'm thinking I really, really respect him."

With Momma out of the room, and out of earshot, the Chou boys stood up, too. They were ear-to-ear grins, and deeply relieved.

Hu Lu said, "You have our deepest gratitude, Mr. Sottm... Tom. That was a close call, indeed!

"Let me ask, do you really have clients interested in a casino?"

Tom grinned back, "Is Santa Claus real?

"No. I was just doing my part to get you two off the hook. You looked like you could use some help."

The Chou brothers grinned at each other.

Gang Bang said, "Let us give you, and your companion here, a little reward. Would you like to join us on our yacht tomorrow? We are doing a cruise of Hong Kong harbor. Just an informal gathering... a day trip to see the harbor sights."

Tom looked at Mary, then said, "We'd be delighted."

"Be at the dock at sun up."

There is grinning and hand shaking all around.

<<<*>>>

Tom and Mary had their invite! Time for some more celebrating... up in their room.

As they cuddled Mary explained, "OK. We're near finished now, Tom. Once on board you need to scout out the yacht, top to bottom. This yacht is family owned, and very much a trophy - one of the biggest in the Hong Kong region, which means there's a lot of right hand/left hand not knowing going on. We need to know if any of that not knowing concerns us. Specifically, you need to inspect and report on Deck Two -- give a report on the general contents there."

Tom said, "A dry run, eh? OK, let's make it smooth... and interesting. I suggest you take the top and I'll take the bottom... of the ship that is." he grinned, "I'll do some more research while you get some sleep." He kissed her lovingly then silently dressed and headed out.