Bill Meilen
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silent, looking around. Then Sun moved forward.

“All the fine pieces of family possessions are now here except the larger furniture. It will all be safe here.” He smiled softly, gesturing pointedly here and there.

“This place is guarded over by some formidable spirits, Elder Brother. The one who enters here uninvited may not leave as quickly as he came. Naturally, if a stranger entered, he would be coming to steal that which belongs to the Chang family. Therefore the family must take care to defend its valuables against the robbers.” He held up a hand to Loy. “You must walk around the perimeter of the cave until you reach the boxes. Take care not to walk in the centre of the cave.” He bent and picked the lamp up from the floor to guide the way.

“Why do we not walk in the middle of the cave?” asked Loy.

Sun stopped dead and held the lamp high above his head, squinting upward into the darkness. Loy and his father followed the uncle’s gaze. High up in the roof of the cave hung a heavy black iron rack with savage barbed spikes the length of a man’s arm protruding downwards. As they watched, it seemed to move slightly, as though precariously balanced or hanging from some slender and hair-trigger support.

Understanding grew in the boy’s eyes. “My God, Dad, that’s a bit strong, isn’t it?” he said in English.

His father snorted. “Strong people must use strong methods to remain strong.” He peered upward again. “A fine arrangement, Brother. Congratulations on your ingenuity. How does it work?”

Sun smiled. “Everyone has his secrets. This is one of mine, Elder Brother. Remember?”

Lee’s great square face cracked open with laughter. He roared, nearly blowing the lamp out. “You haven’t changed! You have an answer for everything. I admire you. It is a good trait. But if you ever feel that you want to confide in somebody, consider telling your secret to the head of the family. In that way none of our future bloodstock will be chopped into raw meat by your demonic devices.” He suddenly stopped laughing and looked deadly serious. “Don’t try to keep secrets from me, Chang Suey-sun, or you’ll regret it.” He watched Sun with one eye closed.

Sun regarded him for a long moment. “Is this the brother who went away five years ago?”

Lee stared at him in the flickering light. Loy stood by embarrassed. “The survival of a family is not an easy matter, Sun,” Lee said at last. “I have too little time to do too many things. There is not time for secrets.”

Sun bowed slightly. “When secrets die, an aspect of civilisation dies, Brother.”

Lee grunted and rose to tower above him. “We will walk around the edge of the cave.” He gestured to Loy. “Pick up that lamp and follow your uncle, my son.” He peered suspiciously upward.

“Is the old strongbox still here?”

Sun led the way into the darkness. “Of course it is.”