Makes Me Wanna Die
A Replacement Killers Sequel
L.A. Adolf

The Chinese character for Love combines elements that impart the literal meaning of:

Breathing into the Heart With Gracious Motion.....

Meg Coburn rose that morning, thinking, as she often had in the six months since he'd left L.A., of John Lee.

She'd seen him off at the airport knowing that she would never see him again. Had been surprised and a little mortified to find herself sobbing as she watched him vanish amongst the throng at LAX. He'd gotten under her skin--something she had not allowed anyone to do in all her thirty years. She'd returned home in a funk that had lasted for weeks, until the realities of life forced her to try to put aside the emptiness she felt inside and move on.

The force of her considerable will had propelled her forward. But John Lee was still a ghost who haunted her dreams when she slept and routinely invaded her waking thoughts.

A month after he'd left, she'd received the only communication from him that she expected she ever would. A small packet which when opened, proved to contain upwards of ten thousand US dollars and a note, penned in English in an elegant, flowing hand:

To make up for some of the damage inflicted on your livelihood because of me. J.

In the note, below the English, a few characters of Chinese had been written. Meg had wondered over them for days, until unable to stand the suspense of not knowing what they said, had repaired to her favorite Chinese restaurant to beg a translation from one of the staff.

I do miss you. Live well.

Not a very romantic postscript perhaps, but the tenderness behind the spare message haunted her for weeks.

The packet from John had contained no return address, just a postmark from Canton. The customs seal had euphemistically labeled the contents as printed matter. She'd kept the wrapper and the note, unable to throw away the unexpected link to her mysterious companion of those scant few days, months ago. In fact, she'd found herself pulling them out of the drawer she'd consigned them to, her fingers moving to trace out the writing, more times a day than she found healthy.

It was hopeless. She would never see him again. She had to get on with her life. She had never been the type to moon after any man. What made him so different?

Damn the man anyway. Could he not have sent her news? Had he rescued his family? Were they well? Was he? Were they still in China? Or had the packet been posted even as he had made his escape--and theirs? The fact that she would never know ate a hole in her heart.

Heart disease from attrition.

She was angry at herself. She'd made a point, since childhood, not to form attachments. To keep people at an arms length, to control her emotions when it came to her fellow man. It was safer that way, less messy. She'd grown a thick hide in the foster care system and it had protected her long and well.

Until John. Damn him!

She'd debated what to do with the money he had sent for several days. She had finally decided to be practical and realistic. What savings she'd had had gone to repairing her apartment and placating her landlord so that she could stay where she was. She had considered moving, but had ultimately decided against it. While not a classy residence, the rent was reasonable and the location ideal and the space cavernous. The money from John allowed her to pay off her replacement computer equipment, as well as to beef up security. She'd gone back to forging documents out of necessity, and found that in the destruction of Wei's gang, that more business had started coming her way. Part of her had wanted desperately to follow through on the redemption of her soul that saving Zedkov's son had begun, but straightforward graphics did not come close to paying the rent, or keeping her in food and supplies. At least for his part, Zedkov had left her alone--his gratitude for her part in saving his son's life creating a blind eye when turned in her direction.

Buzzing at the door of her apartment startled Meg out of her reverie.

She glanced over to the monitor that sat atop her filing cabinets, focussing on the figure that coalesced on the screen and in her consciousness.

A woman. Small boned, but still tall, especially for Chinese. As she watched, the woman's head swiveled toward the security camera which was now, just as it had always been, disguised from plain sight in the hall.

The woman's movement reminded her of someone. As did the lovely features that were revealed as she faced the camera.

"Meg Coburn?" a soft voice asked, looking into the eye of the camera with an almost preternatural knowledge of where it was.

Deja vu....

"Never heard of her," Meg replied over the intercom, her standard greeting. But something kept her hand away from the gun she had hidden under her desk. Some glimmer of recognition putting her through the paces, but preparing her for what came next.

"I need your help, Meg Coburn," the young woman said, and without further speech, held three items up and toward the camera. It was then that Meg had confirmed what she had suspected when she'd looked into the lovely young woman's face.

She was holding out the passports that Meg had prepared months ago. One she'd merely replaced the photo in. The other passport visible was one of two that she'd managed to salvage from a hidden stash the police had missed and created on replacement computer equipment bought hastily on credit. The name was not visible on the third document, but she needed no further confirmation beyond what she saw.

Alan Chin and Sung Ju.

John was either back or he was dead, the woman in the hall using the passports at his instruction as a bill of passage.

Meg did not hit the mechanism that unlocked the door remotely, instead standing up and dashing around her desk and to the door, throwing it open--her natural caution forgotten. The young Chinese woman's resemblance to her brother was unmistakable. She was John Lee's sister, Meg had known it instinctively even before seeing the passport evidence.

Meg threw the door open.

The young woman appraised her quickly, "You are Meg. You're just as he described you," she said softly, smiling slightly, invoking the ghost of another smile on a handsome face. Her voice was dulcet, her English lightly accented.

"And you're John's sister! You look like your brother. Come in, please!" Meg invited, tamping down the urge to ask the question she really wanted answered and five minutes ago, damn it: Where the hell is John....?!

"I cannot. I need your help, Meg Coburn. Please, can you come with me?"

Although her well-honed senses assured her that this did not feel like a trap, Meg hesitated, her survival instincts calling out a warning.

"Wait a second. Go where? What's wrong? Where is your brother? He's not..." Meg paused, thinking of one likely scenario for sending his sister to her in this fashion.

"I've come to take you to him. We need your help. Please! There is no time to waste."
The young woman responded, grabbing Meg's hand, looking at her, her eyes pleading.

Feeling for her keys in her jacket pocket, Meg nodded, closed and secured the door behind her.

Her heart in her throat, she followed.

They did not go far. Walking down the stairway to the ground floor, Meg's companion had led her out of the lobby and into the adjoining alley. This had given Meg opportunity to look at John's sister more carefully. The lovely features were, on closer inspection, marred by lines of fatigue and worry; the hands that held hers, cold with stress and fear. She could think of only one possible scenario and tried not to let it panic her as the young Chinese woman pulled her further into the alley; tried not to pull from her grasp and break into a dead run towards what she feared she would find. Meg's heart was thumping loudly in her chest, her breathing constricted.

There, on the far end of the alley, near the dumpster, a willowy, dark haired Chinese woman bent down over something in the alley.

As Meg drew closer, she did pull from her companion,and broke into that dead run as she realized what she was seeing.

John Lee, collapsed to the ground. Meg's heart clenched agonizingly.

Meg's long legs carried her the distance quickly. She paused only the barest fraction of a minute to look down on the man she'd thought never to see again, then she dropped to her knees at his side.

Her first panicked thought was that he was dead, he was so pale and still. The hand that shot out to touch the pulse point on his neck came away reassured of a heartbeat. Meg released a breath she'd not realized she'd been holding.

"John!" Meg exclaimed, her hands going to each side of his face, cradling his lax features between them. His skin was hot and dry to the touch.

Fever. Dehydration. She willed his eyes to open and to look at her with recognition, "John, can you hear me?"

The long eyelashes fluttered, and the soulful brown eyes beneath them opened, looking at her muzzily.

"...Meg...?" his beautiful voice queried bemusedly, as though he did not trust the evidence of his sight.

"Yes, John, it's Meg. You're home now, you're safe," she soothed, meaning every word.

Her immediate reaction was to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. But even as the thought formed, she rejected it. She did not know what was wrong with him, illness or trauma, nor whether he was being pursued by assassins or police. While Zedkov had assured her he'd made the file he'd begun on John disappear as part of his gratitude for saving his son, Meg still harbored a basic distrust of the police. She could not count on his having been completely truthful. Not where John's life was concerned.

As much as she yearned to deliver John into the hands of professional medics, she also could not risk that in so doing she would bring him unwanted and dangerous attention. And if he had been shot, as gut instinct told her he had, hospitals and clinics were required by law to report the injury. She could not risk it.

"We've got to get him inside, to my apartment." Meg looked up at John's sister and mother who stood over them, worry deeply etched in their faces.

"Welcome to America," she said with feeling.

end chapter one