I turned to my four new companions. "Do any of you speak English," I switched languages, "or Mandarin?"
A boy in a faded blue shirt tentatively smiled. "I know a little English," he replied, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. "I used to like watching American television very much!"
"My name is Autumn and this is my dog Watson. What's your name?"
"They call me Benny. Are you really going to take us somewhere safe?"
"I hope so! Benny, how do you say 'hurry up' or 'hurry, hurry' in Cantonese?"
"Fai dee! Fai dee ah!"
I picked up Watson's leash. "Okay, it's our turn. Fai dee! Fai dee ah," I urged.
We turned right at the end of the alley and almost ran into the missing gang member. Luckily he was facing away from us, waving frantically at a green sports car coming down the street. I put out my arms to stop the others. We quickly backed up into the alleyway.
Now what? It would take too long to get to the other end of the alley. No time to lose. "This way," I said pointing to the left. "Shh." I used my body to shield the children from view as we moved into the open.
"Don't look back, keep moving, try to blend in." Benny relayed my instructions. We silently wove through the throngs of people walking along the sidewalk. When we reached the end of the street I ventured a look back.
"Whew! So far, so good." They were going to be real mad when they found an empty room. I motioned for everyone to form a human chain.
"Benny, I'll take the lead, you go last. Please tell the others that we all need to hold hands so no one gets lost."
He gave me a big thumbs up, and then repeated it for the other three.
We were taking the long route around the block. I had everyone stop when we reached the other end of the alley. I stepped forward to peek around the corner...and there was the green sports car racing towards me. Too late, I'd been spotted!
"Benny," I shouted, "take Watson and hide everyone in that doorway!" He hesitated. "Don't worry, he's very friendly. I'll try to lose them and then come back for you."
Here goes nothing. I ran across the alleyway and sprinted down the sidewalk. Think fast, girl. I could hear the sports car accelerating behind me. The intersection up ahead was full of people. I dashed across the street just as the light turned green in the other direction. That should hold them! I looked over my shoulder. Oh, no! A lanky Chinese teenager was getting out of the car. I crossed the street again. There was a housing project in the middle of the block -- I might be able to lose them in there.
I'd almost made it when a hand dug into my left shoulder.
"Don't move," he commanded.
I spun around and was face to face with the teenager from the car. I felt a big rush of adrenaline. I kicked his knee like Mrs. Lee had taught us and then smashed my right palm into his jaw. He dropped like a sack of potatoes.
"Wow, it really worked!" I was elated, but I also remembered to start running again.
I dashed into the housing project and zigzagged through the buildings. I came out at the other end -- all clear! I kept low and used the other pedestrians for cover. It took a couple of minutes, but I arrived safely back at the alley again.
"Benny..." I called out softly.
"Psst, Autumn." Benny was waving from behind a rack of second hand clothes. I parted two coats and joined them.
"I've lost them for the moment, but it's probably still not safe to be on the street." I cautioned them.
One of the children pointed through the clothes. "Taxi," he whispered in Cantonese.
"Taxi," interpreted Benny.
"Why not?" I looked out, it was clear. We piled into the back of the taxi.
"Hey, no dogs allowed!"
I pulled out my wallet to show the driver we had money. "Please sir, it's an emergency."
"Okay, where to kid?"
I gave him the address then pushed everyone's head down below the edge of the window. In less than five minutes we pulled up in front of the Lee Benevolent Society building. A frantic Mrs. Lee was pacing outside the doorway. I paid the driver and we all moved inside.
"Autumn, I was getting so worried," admitted Mrs. Lee with a sigh of relief.
"Well, we made it, thanks to your training yesterday."
Mrs. Lee led us up to the second floor. The rest of the children were sitting at a big table. Cups of hot, steaming tea were already out and Younger Mr. Lee was coming into the room with a huge platter of Chinese noodles. Adam and Vanessa were handing out plates and chop sticks.
"What took you so long?" they both asked.
"The gang members came back. We avoided them the first time, but they saw me as I came around the other end of the alley. I ran to draw their attention but one of them managed to catch me. I used Mrs. Lee's technique to break free and we hid in a taxi to get here."
"Whew," laughed Adam. "We saw the guy who disappeared from the room talking on a pay phone. We quickly crossed the street and he thankfully missed us."
"Well, he was back at the end of the alley waiting for his friends when it we started off." I turned to Mrs. Lee. "What about the kids? What's going to happen to them?"
"The Lee family will find temporary homes for all of them while they track down their relatives."
"And my pendant?"
"Old Mr. Lee has remembered a childhood story about a pendant that was a key to a priceless fortune."
"Oh my! My dream again..."