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php 120,000 words

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A Novel


Charles J. Lee

‘Kung-fu’ means ‘Skill’ or ‘Ability’.

It applies to all life experiences.


Somewhere in The Real World...

A vehicle sped between more leisurely moving ones, cutting

across multiple lanes on the moderately crowded highway without

signaling. The driver did not seem concerned with safety. As

long as there was a gap, he grabbed it, squeezing in abruptly

and forcing other drivers to jam their brakes.

The woman sitting in the front passenger seat pursed her

lips and gripped her knees tightly.

“Michael, do you know the difference between an Otto and a

Karl?” Cindy asked.

“I know that the internal consumption engine which powers

all Karls and Ottos was invented by Karl Otto Daimler. These

things are semi-living mechanical beasts...”

“Ugh! I’m not talking about engineering!” Cindy lifted both

hands upwards. “Men and their communication!”


“What’s this about men?” Michael asked.

“I’m talking about how you handle Ottos and Karls!” Cindy

replied, tapping a finger against an open palm like a

schoolteacher. “Look: an Otto is like a modern horse; it can

squeeze into tight spots. Since it is open, you can fall off if

you are not careful. When we were dating, you took me out for

spins in your Otto.”

“Of course,” Michael grinned mischievously.

“Hey, quit savoring your memories of Boco Congo!” Cindy

demanded. “You’re a bad boy, the worst...”

“How did you know I was thinking about that night...”

“I’m a woman! I can tell!” Cindy replied. Then she leaned

towards Michael and whispered. “You were licking your lips.”


Cindy sat back and continued talking in a teacher-like

tone. “A Karl has a roof and is essentially a carriage without

horses. You never have to worry about falling off. A Karl can

also take many more passengers than an Otto.”

“What is the point of telling me all that?” Michael grunted

in manly fashion.

Cindy’s eyes opened wider and she put on a stern face.

“Because, my dear husband,” Cindy reached over and pulled

Michael’s ear. “Because we are no longer riding an Otto! We are

sitting in a rented Karl!”


“Isn’t that obvious?”

“It is... aah!” Cindy had turned back to look at the road.

She opened and shut her mouth in shock as Michael overtook

another Karl with hardly any room to spare.

After waiting several seconds for the blood to return to

her face, Cindy turned to Michael.

“You have been driving this Karl as though it was our Otto,

squeezing between other vehicles on the road, making sharp

turns, overtaking and doing all those dangerous stunts!” Cindy

exclaimed. “And have you forgotten our babies sleeping behind?

Have you forgotten that you have become a father?”

Michael sighed. “No. I haven’t forgotten. But we really

need to get out of here as soon as possible.”

There was a pause.

“You fought with some man in a bar, and now his gang is

after you?”


“Then what is it?”

“Creditors. Yours and mine.”

Cindy’s face paled.

“They sent a Collector to get the money I owe. I defeated

him within three moves and he fled. Then two Collectors came for

your debts. I drove them off in ten moves. But the Collectors

never give up. They’ll be back.”


“Why didn’t you sell our house? Or get a second mortgage?”

“Home prices fell. We now owe more than our house is worth.

The house has been foreclosed on.”

“How come I don’t know about this?” Cindy’s voice took on

an edge. “You only told me to pack for a long trip!”

“I didn’t say anything to you because you were in the

ward,” Michael replied.

“Oh dear... the Collectors...” Cindy squeezed her face

between both hands. “That is bad. I didn’t expect our


“As you know,” Michael sighed, “We both owe money on our

student loans and credit cards. After I lost my job, we have

been falling behind on our interest payments.”

“So you’re driving like this because we are being chased,”

Cindy replied soberly.

“Dear, I may be a bad boy through and through. But I

wouldn’t endanger our babies for no reason,” Michael said as he

weaved between several Karls with the deftness of a racing


As Michael made a sharp turn at high speed, causing Cindy

to squeal with shock, the distant view of a mountain appeared.

A new light came into Michael’s eyes. “Wait a moment. That

unique shape and sign... isn’t that Mt. Beaver?”

“Where my sister lives,” Cindy replied without enthusiasm.


Michael tried to sound upbeat. “Why don’t we see your

sister? She might be able to do something for us.”

“My sister isn’t talking to me,” Cindy said in a tone that

suggested she did not want to explain.

“That’s fine then. I wasn’t counting on any support

anyway,” Michael shrugged and hunched over the controls.

Cindy looked back anxiously at her babies. Despite

Michael’s driving, the newborns were all sleeping peacefully.

“If you want to escape from the Collectors, shouldn’t we be

going South instead?”

“We’re heading for Pimento City,” Michael answered.

Cindy raised her eyebrows.

“Um... why are you seeking safety in that dangerous place?”

“Pimento City? It is the capital of this land.”

“They say that this land is ruled by criminals, led by a

former mercenary and mass-murderer called the Governator.”

“These people won’t bother us. And I need to meet one of my

oldest friends,” Michael said as he steered the Karl more

cautiously between two enormous trucks. “We played together as

children. He is now known as the Regulator.”

“The Regulator? But...” Cindy pursed her lips. “The

Regulator doesn’t do special favors for friends. He only helps

the righteous. Are you sure he will protect you?”


“Honey, I don’t do bad things,” Michael said with a wicked

grin. “Except with you.”

Cindy laughed, but her face showed that she was not


“Why don’t you seek help from your brother first? Doesn’t

he have a training center near here?”

Michael sighed. “My brother doesn’t talk to me anymore.

Said I get drunk too often, get into fights, the like.”

“Doesn’t he get into plenty of fights too?”

“Well... we had a major falling out after he heard about my

nickname. Said I had spoiled the family name. Made him lose

face, stuff like that.”

“But you don’t drink anymore.”

“Exactly. That’s why I dare to meet the Regulator.”

“If you’ve stopped drinking, surely your brother will

forgive you also?”

Michael sighed. “I owe him money.”

“I don’t remember you ever borrowing money from him,” Cindy

commented. “If you had, you wouldn’t be owing all these

Creditors money, would you?”

Michael smiled ruefully. “Do you remember that party last

year at Jack’s house?”

“Oh yes!” Cindy laughed. “You were still quite the party


“Exactly,” Michael said with a tinge of guilt in his voice.

“And remember what they said when I entered the house?”

“Enter The Drunkard!” Cindy shouted. She also jerked a fist

upwards in a gesture of cheerful excitement, but remembered just

in time that she was in a Karl. She stopped her fist a hair’s

breadth from the roof, which was very fortunate for the roof.

“My brother heard about that,” Michael sighed.

“Ooh,” Cindy said with a laugh.

“You’ve heard me say he’s big on the traditional stuff.

Honor, face, the like,” Michael replied. “Not irreverent like


“So he heard the news and went through the roof?” Cindy


“He sent somebody – I don’t know who – flying through his

roof,” came the answer. “Homeowner’s insurance rejected his

claim since there was no ‘kung-fu mishap clause’. So my brother

sent me the roofing contractor’s bill. It was no small sum. You

know how contractors are like.”

Having paid plumbers, electricians and telephone workmen

before, Cindy nodded numbly. These traumatic experiences

remained indelibly fixed in her memory.

“I live a clean life now,” Michael said with conviction.

“The Regulator will protect us against sleazy Creditors and

their pet Collectors.”


A short distance from Mt. Beaver, Michael passed a battered

old Karl by the roadside. He assumed the Karl had broken down,

but it roared to life as Michael passed. The Karl speeded up

quickly and came straight at Michael and Cindy. There were three

unshaven men inside, and one held up a document with a grin that

resembled a yawning hippopotamus.

“Oh no, it’s the Collectors!” Cindy exclaimed.

For a moment, Michael wanted to speed up. He figured his

Karl could outrun the Collectors’ Karl. But then Michael looked

into his rearview mirror where his children were sleeping

peacefully. And he cast his eye at the Collectors’ battered Karl

again. No doubt the Collectors had engaged in many a chase

before. Michael could not risk a collision. He sighed and slowed

down, then pulled over to the side.

Michael emerged from the Karl as the three stout Collectors

swaggered down the road.

A Collector was carrying a burlap bag over his shoulder.

“Ho ho ho!” He sang out.

“It isn’t Christmas,” Michael said unenthusiastically.

“Every day is Christmas for us,” the Collector said as he

unslung the burlap bag. “Now, where’s the loot?”

“Say again?”

“The money you owe us, my dear Mister Lee.”


“It’ll be coming to you.”

“We want it now.”

“I said, it will be coming. Now quit following me. It’s



A Collector cracked the knuckles on his right hand.

“Tut, tut,” the knuckle-cracking Collector said. “You’re on

our naughty list. It isn’t healthy to owe us.”

“Surely you know my reputation?” Michael asked casually.

“Michael ‘Booze’ Lee,” the Collector replied. “You did give

a couple of our boys some bruises.”

“Glad you know it.”

“That’s why it’s three of us now.”


The knuckle-cracking Collector now cracked the knuckles on

his left hand.

Michael stepped away from the Karl. “You really want to

challenge me? Your kung-fu cannot be a match for mine.”

The Collectors laughed. “We know that you have stopped

drinking for good. You won’t be able to employ your famous

Drunken Fists against us.”

Michael tried not to let his discomfort show. “You forgot

that I have a wife.”

“What can she do? Scream at us?” A Collector laughed.


The bag-carrying Collector put away his bag and produced a

rope. “You should know that when us Collectors are called on to

find a debtor, we will go to the ends of heaven and earth. We’ll

bring you back to the hospital to pay your debt.”

“Not if I can help it,” Cindy said coldly from inside the

Karl. “You don’t think that Michael Lee’s wife knows kung-fu?”

“I’ll be glad to trade blows with your wife,” a Collector

leered. “Part of our job.”

“A blows-job,” another man added in the kind of tone that

overly intelligent children used in class.

“Oh?” Cindy replied in a tone as sharp as a knife cutting

through sausage. “Do you really want to fight us?”

With that, Cindy stuck an arm out of the window. At first,

her arm looked no different from any other fair-skinned woman’s

arm. Then a strange gray tone began spreading all over the arm.

“What the...”

“She’s employing some kind of kung-fu...”

“That’s right,” Cindy said as her arm turned gray

completely. “The transmutation kung-fu, level four. I now have a

rock-hard fist.”

“Rock... oh no! You are Cindy Roth, ‘The Rock’!” The oldest

Collector exclaimed.

“Exactly. And how would you like to be punched with a fist

like this?”